Welcome to the penultimate Travel Spot of my first trip of 2022, covering my return from Boston in mid-February. 2022 got underway as 2021 had ended, with a visit to North America, flying with British Airways in World Traveller Plus (aka premium economy). This time, however, rather than flying to Atlanta before returning from Boston, I flew to and from Boston. In another twist, instead of returning home to Guildford, I continued on to my Dad’s in North Wales, taking the familiar (from pre-pandemic times) short hop from Heathrow to Manchester.
Initially, I had planned to cover the whole trip in one post, but as is often the case, this Travel Spot grew in the telling. Therefore, I’ve decided to split it into two instalments, with this, the first, covering my flight from Boston to Heathrow. The second instalment covers the short hop from Heathrow to Manchester.
I flew out to Boston in mid-January on my way to spend three weeks in Maine with Amanda before flying back two weeks ago. On my previous trip, I took the bus down from Portland to Boston Logan airport, but this time, Amanda and I caught the Downeaster, Amtrak’s train service linking Boston with Maine. We go to Boston on Friday afternoon, spending 24 hours exploring the city before I made my way to the airport on Saturday evening.
Since this is a very long post, I’ve split it into the following sections:
- Pre-flight preparations
- Silver Line to Logan Airport
- Logan Airport
- British Airways Lounge
- Boarding & Takeoff
- First Time on a Boeing 787-10
- World Traveller Plus
- New In-Flight Entertainment System
- The Flight
- Landing at Heathrow
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, flying internationally has become slightly more complicated. On each of the three trips I’ve made (Iceland, July 2021; Atlanta/Boston, November 2021; and this one), the rules have been different. I even had the rules change on me while I was in America on my previous trip. On that occasion, the arrival of the omicron variant led to a tightening of the rules, requiring a PCR test on my return, plus self-isolation until my (negative) test result arrived, the whole processing descending into farce thanks to incompetence on behalf of the private testing company.
The rules changed again on this trip, only this time I was the beneficiary, the UK Government announcing that it was scrapping all testing for inbound flights to England midway through my trip, with the new rules coming into force two days before I was due to arrive. With the US not requiring any testing, this made the whole process significantly easier to navigate, just requiring me to fill out the online passenger locator form and complete the VeriFLY app before I got to the airport.
There’s no way around the passenger locator form, but if you don’t want to use the VeriFLY app, you can manually present your documentation at the airport for verification when you check in. However, I really don’t recommend this option since VeriFLY is easy to use, efficient and it gives you peace of mind that all your documentation is in order before you get to the airport.
Since Amanda and I were travelling down to Boston the day before my flight, I got going with the documentation on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, the UK Government insists that you fill out the passenger locator form no earlier than 48 hours before you land, which mean that I couldn’t complete it (since I was landing at Heathrow on Sunday morning). Naively I thought I might be able to fill in the information ahead of time and then just submit it during the 48-hour window, but no such luck.
Even though the information required is now entirely static (basically where you’ve been, your vaccination status and where you’re going to stay in the UK), practically the first thing you enter is your flight information. And, of course, I was doing this more than 48 hours before the flight was due to land, so the website wouldn’t let me go any further. As far as I can see, this is an entirely pointless restriction, and, to add to my frustration, without the passenger locator form, I couldn’t complete the VeriFLY app either, although at least I could make a start on that.
As a result, I had to spend 30 minutes in the hotel on Friday night, time I could have spent with Amanda, filling out the passenger locator form and then completing the VeriFLY app. I did, as a matter of habit, also try to check-in online, but like the last time I flew back from America, online check-in was unavailable.
On big advantage in travelling down to Boston the day before was that I had a stupendously good night’s sleep, waking the next morning feeling really refreshed. We left our bags at the hotel, had breakfast at the South Street Diner, then spent the day exploring Boston before I headed off to the airport that evening.
When I used to visit Boston regularly, I stayed in Back Bay, taking the subway to the airport. This involved catching the Green Line or preferably the Orange Line before changing to the Blue Line, which has a dedicated airport station. However, this is still a fair way from the terminal buildings, so a free shuttle bus takes you from the station to your terminal.
However, Amanda and I were staying on the waterfront in downtown Boston, close to South Station, so I decided to take the Silver Line bus (specifically Silver Line 1, or SL1), which leaves from a dedicated terminal under South Station (along with SL2 and SL3, so make sure you get on the right one!). From there, it runs under the Seaport District (if I’d taken my bags with me to La Colombe, I could have caught the bus from there) going on to call at all the airport terminals.
The Silver Line shares an MBTA station with the subway’s Red Line, accessible either from South Station or directly from the street. I hauled my luggage down a long flight of steps, but I think that there are lifts as well. Note that the Silver Line is free from the airport to South Station, but from South Station to the airport, you need to buy a ticket ($2.40 or you can use a Charlie Card if you have one). There are plenty of ticket machines in the entrance foyer and the directions (in English, at least) are clear.
Note that even if you just purchase a single ticket, you’ll actually be issued with a Charlie Card, which you need to tap on a Charlie Card gate (this has caused confusion for other passengers who tried to use the non-Charlie Card gates). Once through the gates, the Silver Line is tucked away in a corner, so don’t be distracted by the more prominent red line entrances on the other side.
Elevators and a short staircase lead down to what is in effect a mini tube station, the buses entering from the left and leaving to the right. The SL1, to Logan Airport, leaves from the far end of the platform, while the others leave from the near end. However, once the SL1 has boarded passengers, it pulls forward to the front of the platform if its early, so if you see one with “SL1 Logan Airport” on the side, hop on, wherever it is on the platform! Fortunately, all three lines run on the same route for the first three stops, so if you catch the wrong bus, there’s plenty of time to realise your mistake, get off and wait for the next SL1 bus (which run every 12 minutes at weekends and more frequently at busier times).
The Silver Line uses a dedicated tunnel under the Seaport District using overhead powerlines. At the third stop, Silver Line Way, which is at the end of the tunnel, the bus switches to its diesel engine, joining the regular road network, running non-stop to the airport via the Ted Williams Tunnel under the harbour.
Like the Concord bus from Portland, the Silver Line goes around the terminals, starting at Terminal A, then B1, B2, C and finally, Terminal E, the international terminal, where I was going. However, unlike the Concord bus, which only drops off (then goes around again to pick up), the Silver Line picks people up along the way, so you can use it to travel between the terminals for free. After leaving Terminal E, it leaves the airport to return to South Station via Silver Line Way, so don’t jump on at Terminal E thinking it will take you back to A, B or C!
I caught the 18:33 from South Station, which takes 15 minutes to get to Terminal A, then a further 10 minutes to get around the airport to Terminal E, where I was dropped off just before 19:00, more than enough time for my flight, which left at 21:45.
Like the Concord bus from Portland, the Silver Line drops passengers off at arrivals, so you have to go up one level to departures, either on the escalator or via the lifts. My memory of Boston Logan is that it’s historically been a busy airport, but the last few times I’ve flown from here, it has been really quiet. Initially I put that down to catching the early morning flight, which I did on a couple of occasions in pre-pandemic times. Then, when I flew back from Boston at the end of last year, I wondered if it was because I was catching the early evening flight, once again arriving before the majority of the passengers. However, the airport was really quiet this time as well, so perhaps this is the new normal until international travel picks up again.
That makes sense when you look at the number of flights, with British Airways, American and Virgin Atlantic each having just one flight a day. This is nowhere near the capacity there was pre-pandemic, when each airline would have multiple flights, including the early morning flights. I suspect that it’s the same for other airlines using Terminal E, resulting in far few passengers than in pre-pandemic times. It’s probably also true for the other terminals, since Amanda, who recently flew from Boston on a domestic flight, reported that it was very quiet too.
All of this is, of course, leading up to the fact that I once again checked in and made it through security in under ten minutes. There was no-one ahead of me at check-in, where I didn’t even have to show my VeriFLY pass, since the app had automatically synchronised with the British Airways systems, notifying the person on the check-in desk that I was good to go. As an aside, I wonder whether I’d have been able to check-in online that morning (not that I’d thought to try). However, check-in was so quick that it’s really not an issue.
I had a brief look around the terminal, which was really quiet again, although at least there was more open at this point in the evening. By 19:15, I was on my way up to the British Airways lounge, looking forward to settling down for a couple of hours and getting something to eat. The last time I’d flown from Boston, I’d arrived just as the lounge was opening, having the place largely to myself. This time, however, there were two other flights using the lounge, an IcelandAir flight to Reykjavik, which was boarding as I arrived, and an Iberia flight to Madrid, due to leave at 20:45, an hour before my flight, all of which contributed to the lounge being busier than I was used to!
I’ve written about the British Airways lounge at Boston before, so I won’t repeat myself, other than to stress how much I like it. My flight hadn’t arrived when I reached the lounge, but it pulled up to the gate shortly after I arrived. Since the lounge was already quite full, I headed for the bar area at the back and deliberately sat in the corner where there were just two tables in a small alcove in the hopes of having the area to myself. However, despite there being plenty of other tables free, someone decided to sit at the other table shortly after I arrived!
As usual, I was impressed by the food, with British Airways still using its online ordering system, which works really well. I wonder if it will continue when all this is over? In addition to the online selection, I also discovered that the lounge had reinstated some of its serve-yourself buffet options, including a salad bar and a mezze station.
Although these looked quite tempting, I stuck with the online menu, ordering a roasted beetroot salad to start with, followed by the butternut squash risotto. These were both very good, although the salad was outstanding. I followed this up with a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, but knowing that the staff like to deliver each order all in one go, I only ordered this once my salad and risotto had arrived. Sadly, this was the least impressive part of the meal, being more of a cake than a pudding and not being all that sticky either.
Having had a day of visiting Boston coffee shops, I decided to give coffee a miss this time, although I did have my kit with me had I wanted to make my own. Instead, I had a glass of port, a rather fine Ramos Pinto LBV, although not a patch on the 2009 Colheita that the First Class lounge serves at Heathrow. I fear I am getting to be rather spoiled…
The Iberia flight was called for boarding at 20:00, which cleared out the lounge a little, although since it departed from Gate E5, everyone had to leave via the main entrance and make their way along to the gate which was back past security. I settled down to do a little work, the time passing rather quickly.
Before I knew it, we were being called for boarding at 21:00. I was sitting directly across from the gate, so I could see there weren’t many Group 1 people boarding, which rather worked to my disadvantage. Normally pre-boarding is announced about five minutes ahead of the start of main boarding, which gives me a chance to pack up, but this time there was no warning and I was still sorting my stuff out when Group 2 was called. This proved to be rather a large group which I ended up at the back of…
Despite my slow start, boarding went quickly, with the facial recognition system speeding things along (instead of showing your boarding pass and passport to someone at the gate, a camera takes a picture of you before letting you through). From the lounge, an escalator leads down one level to the main gate, with a second escalator descending another level to the air bridge to the plane. If, like me, you prefer walking down stairs rather than standing on escalators, there’s also a parallel flight of stairs for each escalator which I used to get down to the plane in double-quick time.
Within five minutes of leaving my seat in the lounge, I was stepping onto the aircraft, following the familiar route through Club World and to my seat at the front of the World Traveller Plus cabin. Just as I had on the flight out, rather than booking my usual seat on the right, I’d decided to sit on the left, once again in the aisle seat in front (bulkhead) row.
Boarding was pretty quick and, by 21:20, everyone was onboard, although we then stayed at the gate for a further 20 minutes before pushing back at our scheduled departure time of 21:40. While we waited, the cabin crew came around and asked me (and one other in the World Traveller Plus cabin) what I wanted for dinner, which is unusual. It’s possible that I was given an early choice because of my gold status (if so, it’s a neat perk) or because I had a vegetarian meal booked (which was supposed to be the case on the flight out, but didn’t happen for some reason). Either way, I was very happy because I got the standard vegetarian option (spinach ravioli in this case) rather the vegan meal I often get.
After pushing back, we spent the obligatory five minutes on the tarmac while we had the manual safety demonstration. However, Club World was a little short staffed, so the second Club World cabin (Rows 12 – 17, just in front of me) got their own safety demonstration after ours was complete, which extended our time on the tarmac by a couple of minutes.
As soon as the second demonstration was over, we were on our way, taxiing to the far southeast corner of the airport for takeoff. The last time I took off from Boston, the map on my phone was working, despite being in flight safe mode, so I was able to track my progress around the airport. This time, I had no such luck, but judging by how long we were taxiing, plus what I could see from the window as we flew over Boston, I’m pretty sure that we used the same southeast-northwest runway.
We took off at 22:00, flying northwest over Boston before banking sharply to starboard and heading northeast, out over the Atlantic, flying parallel to the coast. Before takeoff, the pilot was estimating 5½ hours flying time, although the flight computer on the WiFi was showing 5 hours 18 minutes, which matched what the onboard map was saying. Either way, it was going to be a short flight.
I flew to Atlanta at the end of last year on a Boeing 787-8. Then, when I flew to Boston at the start of this trip, it was on a Boeing 787-9. So, it was fitting that my return was on a brand-new Boeing 787-10, the first one (G-ZBLA) to enter service with British Airways, having been delivered in June 2020. For those that are interested, the 787-9 is, in effect, the standard model, while the 787-8 is slightly shorter. As a result, British Airways has done away with the first class cabin in the 787-8, made the Club World and World Traveller Plus cabins smaller, but added rows in World Traveller, which has two cabins compared the single World Traveller cabin on the 787-9.
In contrast, the 787-10 is a stretch version of the 787-9, which means that it’s slightly longer. This has resulted in a slightly larger Club World cabin and a slightly smaller World Traveller Plus cabin, with the bulk of the additional space going to the very large single World Traveller cabin at the back. For seat maps for each of the aircraft, then clink on the links above.
All this meant that I was in a slightly smaller cabin compared to my flight out, even though I was on a larger plane. The seats were still arranged in the typical 2-3-2 configuration, with just five rows, the middle three seats of each row set slightly behind the pair of seats on either side. This was almost identical to the 787-9 I flew out on, the only difference being that the 787-9 had an extra pair of seats at the back on either side, giving a total of 39 seats compared to the 787-10’s 35 seats.
The flight had been almost empty on the way out, but this time it was very full (similar to when I flew back from Boston at the end of the last year). 21 of the 35 seats were taken, with every row having at least one person in it. Unsurprisingly, given how full the cabin was, I had someone sitting next to me (six of the seven seats in the front row were occupied, with just the middle seat in the set of three left vacant). In contrast, Club World looked relatively lightly occupied, while World Traveller was around one third full, with every set of three seats having at least one person in it (the seats in World Traveller are in a 3-3-3 configuration).
Having criticised the 787-8 for its poor toilet provision, I much preferred the 787-10, where there are four toilets immediately behind the World Traveller Plus cabin, right at the front of the World Traveller cabin, along with a solitary toilet right at the back, accessed from the galley, which seemed a strange configuration. Talking to one of the flight crew, I discovered that they were not happy with the layout, since much of what the crew needed was stored in the Club World galley at the front, requiring constant shuttling back and forth along the length of the plane.
Given how often I’ve flown in World Traveller Plus in recent months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s not much else to say. However, British Airways is constantly tweaking its seating, and my brand-new 787-10 had the latest World Traveller Plus seats, which are subtly different from those that have gone before.
Before we dive into the World Traveller Plus cabin, it’s worth noting that while the 787-8 and 787-9 have the older-style Club World seats, the 787-10 has the new suites that you’ll find in the refitted Boeing 777s. The suites are being rolled out across the fleet, so at some point over the next couple of years, the 787-8s and 787-9s will get them too. For now though, the 787-10 is the only 787 with the new suites.
Getting back to World Traveller Plus, there are a number of subtle differences with the seats, not all of them improvements, along with a new entertainment system. Starting with the seat, from a comfort point of view, I couldn’t detect any difference compared to the (slightly) older World Traveller Plus seat from the flight over. There is a footrest, but I tend not to use them, particularly as I found the footrest release switch at the bottom of the seat awkward to access. Nor did I recline the seat, which, as you can see from the gallery, goes a long way back. Despite the extra space between the rows, I feared it would cramp the person behind me.
I was sitting in seat 20C, in the bulkhead row at the front, where I enjoyed the extra legroom. I think I would be okay in one of the other rows, but I don’t know how easy it would be to use my laptop. What’s more, this is only if the seat in front of me stayed upright: if I ended up with someone reclining the seat, I’d find it very cramped indeed, which is the other reason I always go for a bulkhead (or exit row) seat.
I was, once again, in the aisle seat, with just one seat next to me (the window seat). As much as I love looking out of the window, I get up and walk around a lot on long flights, so it wouldn’t be fair on anyone next to me if I had the window seat. One striking difference on this flight was the absence of a fold-down table mounted on the bulkhead. These are used for cots, but also provide very useful additional in-flight storage space, particularly when both seats are occupied. I can’t remember being on a flight which didn’t have one, so I’m not sure why they were missing.
Another difference is the location of the power outlets. In the older seats, a pair of power sockets are mounted near the base of the stanchion between the seats, with a separate pair of USB outlets for each seat in the front of the seat arm. In contrast, rather than sharing the two power sockets, each of the new seats has a single combined power socket/USB outlets a little further up the stanchion. This was on my left on my seat and angled slightly towards me, which, combined with its slightly higher position, made it much easier to access. However, combining it with the USB outlets is a mixed blessing. If you have a bulky plug or a combined plug/charger (like me), it can block the USBs.
As far I could tell, the table was the one thing which hadn’t changed, pivoting up/forwards from the central armrest, then rotating down to form a half-width table, which you can fold out again for full-size. It’s stable enough, with sufficient space for my (small) laptop, plus there’s a decent forward/backward range (by pretty much the depth of the table), so I could find a comfortable typing position. However, with the left-hand side of the table unsupported, there was a little bit of bounce when typing.
The entertainment system has had a complete overhaul, starting with the TV monitor. This is nice and large and while the overall unit isn’t much bigger than the old system, much more of it is given over to the screen, so you end up with a big increase in viewing area.
In the other rows, the monitor is in the back of the seat in front, but in the bulkhead row, it folds out of the seat arm (once you’ve pressed the latch to release it, something which always catches me out!). The arm swings up to about 45°, then the monitor itself pivots by 90°. Finally, a separate joint at the top of the arm allows you to adjust the monitor (in the vertical plane) to find the perfect viewing angle. Although the monitors in the old seats had a similar arrangement, I found this one to be much more flexible.
However, the new entertainment system has a series of niggles that let it down, the most annoying being when you come to select a movie. In the old system, you used to be able to read the title as you scrolled through the movies, but here things are arranged so that you can only read the first couple of words. It’s frustrating, because it’s such a simple thing to get right.
The interactive map is also frustrating. It may have been a bug, but every now and then, the map would suddenly start automatically scrolling through the different views. While it’s nice to have all these different viewing angles, I don’t want them forced on me, particularly not when I’ve spent a couple of minutes using the fiddly on-screen controls getting the view just right…
It doesn’t help that I knew my way around the old interactive map and, of course, the new one does everything slightly differently, which only added to my frustrations. The other issue was when I zoomed in (which I often do), the icon for the aircraft increased in size to the point where it obscured much of the screen!
Finally, while I’m on the subject of poorly thought through controls, why does almost every airline put the “call cabin crew” button right next to the button for the reading light? They always look very similar to me in low light conditions (which, unsurprisingly, is when I want to use the light) and I always worry that I’ll press the wrong one!
Five minutes after takeoff, the curtains separating World Traveller Plus from Club World were pulled across, the cabin lights came up and the seat belt signs off were taken off. 15 minutes later, at 22:20, the cabin service started, but bizarrely, the cabin lights had turned themselves down, which is how things stayed for the rest of the flight, the cabin crew seemingly unable to do anything about it.
The cabin service started with the familiar offer of a drink and some pretzels. Having learnt from previous flights that the coffee is usually best right at the start of the flight, when the coffee machine has just been switched on, I ordered a coffee as well, which arrived 15 minutes later. The only downside to this strategy is that (unlike Club Europe, where you get a proper cup), the coffee arrives in a takeaway cup, so I popped it into my HuskeeCup to drink. It was okay, but I’ve had better.
As is often the case on overnight flights, the service is more prompt (I assume that this is so that people who want to get some sleep can do so as quickly as possible). Dinner duly arrived at 22:45, consisting of an excellent ravioli with cheese and spinach, served in a tomato sauce along with sun-dried tomatoes. It came with a really tasty coleslaw which made a change from the usual salad, while dessert was a chocolate and coconut cake.
In keeping with the brisk service, everything was cleared away by 23:15. After leaving Boston, we’d flown parallel to the New England coast, then, while dinner was being served, we crossed the Gulf of St Lawrence, reaching Newfoundland Island as dinner was being cleared away. Ten minutes later, we left Newfoundland behind and headed out over the Atlantic. For the next three hours, we flew across the ocean, while I passed the time via a combination of short naps, a little work on the laptop and a movie.
Having said that the meal service was brisk at the start of the flight to maximise the time people could rest, breakfast was served surprisingly early, at 02:05 (or 07:05 local time). At this point we were still an hour and twenty minutes away and the cabin crew still couldn’t get the lights fully up, although it mattered less as it was starting to get light outside.
In the couple of years when I was flying regularly in Club World before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was very spoilt when it came to breakfast and, to be honest, World Traveller/World Traveller Plus breakfasts never fail to disappoint in comparison (in contrast, I find dinner to be pretty good). This time I had a cheese croissant and yoghurt, one of the better World Traveller Plus breakfasts that I’ve had!
We were still out over the Atlantic when breakfast was served, coming in on a very southerly route, flying almost due east and just clipping the southern tip of Ireland, crossing from Kerry to Cork. The cabin crew fully opened the windows at 07:30, at which point there were signs of a faint sunrise above the clouds outside (although I should have sat on the right-hand side for the best views of the sunrise). 15 minutes later, we had cleared the Irish coast and were heading for South Wales, which we reached at 07:55.
Our approach to Heathrow was pretty much due east, the flight having taken a much more southerly route across the Atlantic than I’m used to. However, we needed to land from the east, so, as is often the case on my way back from America, we first went past the airport before turning over London for the final approach. Sadly I had to put my TV monitor away for landing, so I was left with the view across my neighbour and through the window to work out where we were.
I’m pretty sure that we flew across south London, with the pilot announcing seats for landing at 08:15. Roughly five minutes later, we made a wide turn to port over what I’m fairly sure was the Crystal Palace television transmitter before returning along the familiar flight path just south of the Thames. We landed at 08:25, touching down on the south runway, followed by a short taxi to Terminal 5.
The last time I flew back from Boston at the end of last year, we’d ended up on the tarmac, with buses taking us to the terminal. I’d hoped we’d avoid that fate on this occasion, but no such luck. Once again, we pulled up on the tarmac, coming to a halt at 08:35, the only bonus being that we were next to an A380 again.
These days, the flight is disembarked by rows, a COVID-19 precaution which I hope all the airlines will keep since it makes the whole process much simpler. First to go were rows 1 to 11 (First Class and the first Club Europe cabin) and, despite repeated announcements for everyone to stay in their seats, there were a few in the second Club World cabin who felt they just had to get up and rummage around in the overhead bins.
Then it was the turn of rows 12 to 17 (the second Club World cabin) before rows 20 to 24 (us in World Traveller Plus) got the call. Five minutes after we’d come to a halt, I was walking down the stairs and across to the waiting bus. Up until this point, my whole experience had been excellent, but then all the hard work, both at Logan airport, and on the flight, to ensure social distancing and minimise the risk of COVID-19 was completely undone.
If you’ve never seen one of these buses before, they’re not particularly big and don’t have many seats. They’re designed to get as many people on as possible, mostly standing, for the short ride between the aircraft and the gate. In pre-pandemic times, this is fine, and it wouldn’t be a problem now if they didn’t try to cram everyone on.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case. The 21 passengers from World Traveller Plus would have comfortably fitted into one bus, with plenty of room. Instead we waited next to the plane for five minutes while the first wave of passengers from World Traveller joined us, people being crammed on until they were standing shoulder to shoulder, which is frankly ridiculous.
Once we finally got underway, it was just a five-minute drive to the gate and the next stage of my adventure, which you can read about in the second (and final) instalment of this Travel Spot.
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