Welcome to the second and final Travel Spot covering this year’s second trip to Portland (Maine). I flew from London Heathrow to Boston at the start of April (the subject of the previous instalment of this Travel Spot), while this post covers my return to London at the start of May. Both flights were with British Airways and, as I’ve done the last two times I’ve returned from Boston, I took an overnight flight in World Traveller Plus (aka premium economy), leaving Boston in the late evening.
Since I returned from Iceland in July 2021, the rules have been different each time I’ve flown back to the UK, although in this case, the rules were non-existent. After my last flight to the UK in mid-February, the UK Government removed all requirements for testing and withdrew the passenger locator form, so there was nothing to do ahead of the flight. It was very similar to flying in the pre-pandemic era (other than the high prevalence of a highly contagious and potentially fatal airborne virus that is). Naturally, except when I was eating, I wore a mask the entire time I was on public transport, in the airport and on the plane.
As usual, since this is a long post, I’ve split it into the following sections:
- Getting to Boston
- A Day in Boston
- The British Airways Lounge
- World Traveller Plus
- Take-off and Dinner
- Breakfast and Landing
- Heathrow and the Arrivals Lounge
I flew back on Monday, 2nd May, exactly four weeks after my flight to Boston. Since Amanda was working, she couldn’t drive me down to the airport. Rather than taking the coach, as I’d done in November last year, I decided to travel to Boston on Sunday, staying overnight in an airport hotel (there are a crop of these just north of the airport, around Chelsea and Revere Beach, with easy access to the airport, avoiding the centre of Boston). This meant that Amanda could drive me down on Sunday afternoon, popping into Exeter, New Hampshire along the way. A lovely old mill town on the Exeter River, at the point where it becomes the tidal Squamscott River, it’s worth a more extended visit.
I had option of taking the early morning flight on Monday, which British Airways had recently reinstated. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a favourite of mine since I didn’t have to fly overnight. I can’t sleep on economy flights due to a medical condition, and while work was happy to pay to fly me business class (which meant I could sleep lying down), the flight from Boston to London is such a short one, it was hardly worthwhile. Although scheduled for 6½ hours, in reality, you’re in the air for 5½ or six hours at most. Once take-off and landing are taken into account, I doubt I’d get more than four hours sleep and that’s with skipping meals, going straight to bed and (crucially) being able to fall sleep immediately.
The daytime flight, which leaves Boston early in the morning (currently 07:15!) and arrives in London in the early evening (18:45) seemed the perfect compromise. I could save some money from my travel budget by flying premium economy and I’d get home at around a normal bed time.
The last two times I flew back from Boston, the daytime flight wasn’t available. In November, I took the early evening flight, leaving at 18:55 and landing at 06:00. I thought it would help me avoid jet lag since I’d be landing around 01:00 US time, which is when I typically go to bed. As it was, I suffered pretty badly that time around and I wasn’t looking forward to the late evening flight when I returned to the UK in February (since British Airways had cut its schedule right back, it was the only flight available).
This left at 21:45, although this meant landing at a much more reasonable 08:25 the next morning. I found that I was able to cope with this much better and had very little jet lag that week. Added to that, Amanda and I had spent the previous night in Boston and had a really good night’s sleep. I suspect that this, more than anything else, helped me avoid the jet lag.
When it came to choosing this flight, I went for the late evening option again. I was tempting by the early morning flight, but in reality, a 07:15 take off meant getting the 05:30 shuttle from the hotel, and even that would have been cutting it fine. In theory, I could have gone to bed at around midnight and had about five hours sleep, but the reality is, I rarely sleep well before early morning starts, so I would have ended up flying on a few hours sleep. If my theory about a good night’s sleep being one of the keys to avoiding jet lag was correct, this would have been a very bad idea!
That left a choice of two evening flights, one leaving at 19:15, the other at 21:40. Based on my previous experiences, I went for the later flight, which had the advantage of giving me a whole day in Boston, which you can read about after the gallery.
I got a decent night’s sleep and, after breakfast, packed up my things (not that I’d unpacked much the night before), leaving my luggage at reception. This was a different hotel than the one I’d stayed in the previous three times I’d taken the daytime flight from Boston. Not that I had anything against the previous hotel, but on all three occasions, I’d only cared about getting the shuttle to the airport first thing in the morning. Here the plan was to go into Boston for the day and this hotel was just a brisk five-minute walk from the Beachmont stop on the Blue Line, which would take me into the heart of downtown Boston.
Well, that was the plan. Unfortunately, the Blue Line had engineering works, with the trains only running as far as the airport, where I had to change to one of a fleet of shuttle buses to go into downtown Boston. It wasn’t massively inconvenient, but it did demonstrate the efficiency of mass transit. What with the time lost in changing from the Blue Line to the bus and the downtown Boston traffic, what would have been a 10-minute journey took half an hour!
Once I’d made it into Boston, I had an excellent day, wandering around roughly the same area that Amanda and I had covered the day before my previous flight from Boston, only this time, since it was a Monday (ie not the weekend) all the coffee shops I wanted to visit were open. I also visited George Howell at the Godfrey Hotel and the Gracenote Coffee Bar to buy bags of coffee to take to Berlin.
I’d booked a slot on the six o’clock shuttle from the hotel to the airport (the irony being that I had to go through the airport on the Blue Line to get back to the hotel so that I could get my luggage), but because of the replacement buses and the traffic, it took almost an hour to get back.
I arrived at the hotel just after six o’clock, having missed the shuttle, which had gone to the airport to pick someone up. The good news was that I still had plenty of time, with my flight not leaving until 21:40. The shuttle duly turned up, complete with a very grumpy driver who I remember from the other hotel. On that occasion, he forgot he had me onboard and we were almost on our way back to the hotel before he remembered he was supposed to be dropping me off. Given his excellent mood (which, I think, is a front) I decided that it was probably best not to remind him of the incident.
One advantage of the hotel shuttle over the public transport options is that you get dropped off upstairs at arrivals rather than downstairs at departures. By 18:50, I was at the check-in desks, which, given my early hour, had no queues. Within two minutes, I was checked in and on my way to security, which is right next door to the British Airways desks. This was a little busier, but even so, within 20 minutes of arriving at the airport, I was through security and heading for the British Airways lounge.
Each time I’ve flown from Boston, it’s been slightly busier than before. This was no different, with more of the facilities open and more flights on the departure board, although it was still far from what I’d describe as busy.
I got to the lounge at 19:20, just as the 19:15 departure was pushing back, leaving me with a couple of hours before boarding. I’ve written extensively about the excellent British Airways lounge at Boston, so I’m not going to say much more today. The lounge was busy but not full and, as well as my flight, there was a 20:50 Icelandair flight to Reykjavik. I also noted the rather aggressive note at the entrance to the lounge about Iberia passengers, which was weird because the last time I used the lounge, an Iberia flight had been shown on the departures board. It’s also strange since British Airways and Iberia are owned by the same company!
Service in the lounge is slowly returning to how it was pre-pandemic, although the first class dining area is still closed. There are buffet options for salad, mezze and snacks, plus, with the return of the daytime flight, the breakfast menu was back (although not available in the evening). However, the main food options were still only available online (although you can always give your order to one of the many servers). The menu was the same as the last two times I’ve flown, so I went with the excellent roasted beetroot salad and, having had the butternut squash risotto the last time I was here, ordered the Beyond Burger.
I then made a separate order for the warm sticky toffee pudding (if you order it all that the same time, it all arrives at the same time, so I’ve learnt to delay ordering a dessert). The toffee pudding is very good, by the way, although it’s not very sticky, so don’t be fooled by the name. My only disappointment was that there was no port on the menu.
I was sitting at the back of the lounge, near the gate. Unlike last time, when the flight was called without warning, there was a call for pre-boarding at 21:00, which allowed me time to pack up my things. When boarding was called, I was one of the first at the gate (one of the lounge’s many excellent features is its dedicated gate at the back). This uses facial-recognition technology which is much quicker than having a member of staff manually check your boarding pass and passport, so within a couple of minutes, I was on my way down to the plane, a Boeing 777-300.
This was my sixth flight to/from the US with British Airways since November, but my first on a 777-300 (previously I’d managed a 787-8, 787-9, 787-10 and two 777-200s). Like all of British Airway’s 777 fleet, it had the newly upgraded Club World suites, but being a bit longer than its 777-200 cousin, the 777-300 has two Club World cabins, both of which we had to walk through to get to World Traveller Plus.
I’d got my usual seat, 30J, an aisle seat at the front of the cabin by the bulkhead, this time sitting on the right of the plane. I was settled in by 21:10 and, since the flight wasn’t very full, boarding was complete by 21:20. Of course,we weren’t scheduled to depart until 21:40, so we had to wait at the gate until 21:35, when the aircraft doors were closed and we pushed back, ready for the manual safety demonstration. At this point, the seat next to mine wasn’t taken, so I shuffled over for take-off, although I wasn’t expecting to see very much since it was dark outside.
This was my fifth time in World Traveller Plus (aka premium economy) in my last six flights, so I was starting to get to know the seat layout very well indeed, although this was only my second time in newly-refurbished World Traveller Plus seats. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just point you to what I’ve written before (although at some point I should really write a cabin guide!).
The main differences came with the layout of the aircraft itself. This was my first time on a 777-300 in a while and certainly my first time with the new Club World cabins. London to Boston is clearly a business (rather than tourist) route as far as British Airways is concerned. The lounge, with its own gate at the back, is evidence of that, while the ratio of First Class + Club World seats to World Traveller + World Traveller Plus on the 777-300s is also telling.
We boarded quite near the front of the plane, with a small First Class cabin (just two rows, eight seats in all) and a three-row Club World cabin (12 seats) between us and the cockpit at the front. Going the other way, towards the back of the plane, I had to walk through another two Club World cabins, the first with 10½ rows (42 seats in all) and the second, smaller one with 5½ rows (22 seats) before I got to World Traveller Plus.
Normally, the front of the World Traveller Plus cabin is level with the front of the wing, or sometimes the middle of the wing, but here I was actually behind the wing, which is normally where I’d expect the World Traveller cabin to start. As with all the other times I’ve flown World Traveller Plus, the cabin itself was small, with just five rows of seats in a 2-4-2 configuration (40 seats in all).
Similarly, the World Traveller cabin behind us was also comparatively small, with 10 full rows, with the seats in a 3-4-3 configuration (which makes for very narrow seats). This is followed by three rows of 2-4-2 (don’t get your hopes up: the seats aren’t any wider, the fuselage just starts to narrow here) and one last row missing the back two seats on the right (so there are 130 seats in all). The one area where the 777-300 scores well is in toilet provision, with five toilets between 170 economy passengers.
Not that it mattered much since the flight wasn’t very full, with just three or four people in the (smaller) Club World cabin in front of me and not that many more in the larger Club World cabin in front of that. World Traveller Plus was a little busier, with 12 seats free (including the one next to mine) out of 40 total, while I reckon from a brief stroll through World Traveller than it was similar there (that is, about 70% of the seats taken). Perhaps business travel hasn’t picked up as much as British Airways would like.
There is, by the way, another variant of the 777-300 in service with British Airways. This only has one Club World cabin behind the front galley, while there are two World Traveller Plus cabins at the back. I had been due to fly on one of these 777-300s on my way out to Boston, but at some point it was switched for a 777-200.
One thing that disappointed me was the lack of mask wearing now that the requirement had been lifted. There were a few people wearing masks, including the couple sitting directly behind me, which was reassuring, but not a single staff member was masked at any point during the flight.
While we pushed back at 21:35, it proved to be something of a false start as, after the manual safety demonstration, we just sat on the tarmac. The pilot announced seats for take-off at 21:45, but it wasn’t until 21:50, 15 minutes after we pushed back, that we finally set off on our taxi to the end of the runway.
I’m used to taking off on the southeast-northwest runway, the end point of which is about as far away from Terminal E as you can get. However, the day before, planes had been coming in and going out over Revere Beach, which meant that they were using the southwest-northeast runway. This was the case today as well, not that I could tell much from looking out of the window as the weather was really bad, with heavy rain reducing the visibility.
It took us 10 minutes to get to the end of the runway and I got some (blurry) views of downtown Boston across the harbour. We waited there for five minutes while another plane came in to land and then it was our turn. At 22:05, we thundered down the runway, flying over Bellemarsh and Revere Beach as we climbed towards the clouds. I had some brief views of Winthrop and Nahant before we disappeared into the clouds about a minute after take-off.
As usual, the seat belt signs came quickly off, while the crew came through to close the curtains between the different cabins. By 22:10, we were well underway. I got out the monitor in my new seat only to discover that it wasn’t working (which probably explains why the seat was empty, so I can’t really complain). Shifting back over to my original aisle seat, I discovered that while the monitor worked, the in-flight map was down (from the looks of it, that was an aircraft-wide problem).
We had five minutes of turbulence at 22:20 when the seat-belt signs came on again, then the main cabin service started with drinks and pretzels, followed by dinner, which arrived at 23:00. I had a vegetarian meal this time, with a fine cous-cous salad, while the main course, penne with peas, was okay, although once again I felt cheated by dessert (melon). However, the cabin crew asked if I wanted anything from Club World (I’m guessing because of my Gold Status), so I requested some coffee, which is a cut above what’s served in World Traveller/World Traveller Plus.
I watched the movie Belfast over dinner, which finished at midnight. After that I settled down for the rest of the flight, which had about four hours to go.
I spent most of the rest of the flight writing Monday’s Coffee Spot, which I published shortly after landing. Since we were flying east, we were heading towards sunrise and, at around 01:30 (or 06:30 UK time), it started to get light outside, which is right about when we hit a little turbulence and the seat-belt signs came on for the next 50 minutes. Fortunately, this being a 777-300, it had manual blinds, allowing me to watch the sunrise (in contrast, the 787s have electronically-controlled blinds, so the cabin crew can effectively lock the windows closed, even when it’s light outside).
Once the seat-belt signs came off, I went for a short stroll to the back of the plane stretch my legs, which is just as well, since the breakfast service started not long after that at 02:55 (07:55 local time). This consisted of a yoghurt and a cheese and chutney-filled croissant, which was okay, but if there’s any time I miss the comforts of Club Europe and its two-course cooked breakfasts and decent coffee, this is it.
In the past, I’ve had flights from Boston to London take around 5½ hours, which would have had us landing at 08:45. This time we had an estimated six hours flight time, although the on-board systems were estimating landing just after 09:00. We started our descent at 08:25 (03:25 Boston time) and the seat-belt signs came on at 08:45.
At 09:00 we were still above the clouds, entering them at an altitude of 3,000 metres, when the pilot called seats for landing, which typically means that we’re 10 minutes away from touchdown. We exited the bottom of the cloud layer three minutes later at 2,600 metres, with more cloud below us. Since I didn’t have a map to go by, I’m only guessing, but I think we came in south of Heathrow to turn over central London at around 09:05.
By 09:10 we entered the second layer of cloud to emerge shortly before we landed on the south runway at 09:15. The good news about landing from the east is that you just taxi straight off the runway and keep going to Terminal 5, which is at the far end of the airport. The last two times I’ve landed at Heathrow, we’ve had to be taken to the terminal by bus, but this time we taxied up to the southern end of the B-gate satellite block, coming to a halt at 09:20, just over 6¼ hours after leaving Boston.
Sadly, British Airways has given up on disembarking by rows, so it was the usual free-for-all. I was off the plane by 09:25 and on my way to the main terminal and passport control. On my recent flights out of Heathrow, I’ve seen signs pointing to a walkway between the main terminal and its satellite blocks, which is a tunnel which runs beneath the transit system. I’m guessing that it’s always been there, but has only recently been opened up due to the pandemic, allowing people like me (who don’t want to get onto the crowded transit with people from different flights) an alternative.
Although I’ve been curious about the walkway, until now, getting the transit hasn’t bothered me. However, as I approached the platform, there was a mass of people four or five deep waiting for the next transit, hardly any of them wearing masks. I quickly diverted to the stairs down one level to the tunnel and spent a happy five minutes walking from the B-gate satellite block to the main terminal. I think I might do this every time now, unless the transit is really quiet. If nothing else, it’s great exercise after a long flight!
This was the busiest I’ve seen Heathrow since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, I was able to walk straight up to one of the automated passport gates without having to queue and was straight through in a couple of minutes. Unsurprisingly, I made it to baggage reclaim before my bags, although in fairness I didn’t have long to wait. The first bags were out at 09:45 and mine arrived at 09:50, an impressive 25 minutes after I got off the plane.
However, this did mean that I’d missed (in theory), the 09:53 Railair coach to Guildford, although this was no bad thing since I’d been wanting to try out the British Airways arrivals lounge in Terminal 5 for some time. The last time I’d flown into Heathrow, I’d been carrying on to Manchester, so had used the first class lounge in departures, while the two times before that, it had been closed due to COVID-19.
So, with almost an hour to kill to the next bus (10:53), I headed upstairs to the arrivals lounge, with is open to anyone flying Club World, Club Europe or First Class, or, like me, has Silver or Gold status (or equivalent with a One World Alliance partner airline). The first thing you have to do (after showing your boarding pass) is check your bags, which is different from the departure lounges since you’ve already checked your bags for your flight. This is a straightforward procedure, but if, like me, you’re rushing off to catch a bus when you leave, don’t forget to allow an extra five minutes to collect your bags.
The lounge is very laid back and much quieter than any of the Terminal 5 departure lounges I’ve used. There’s a central area where you’ll find a pair of coffee machines and where, in pre-pandemic times, buffet food was available. Now, of course, you order everything online with the familiar ordering system, where you can also reserve a shower.
There’s a business area off to the left, while to the right, where I ended up, is lounge seating, complete with its own coffee machine. Beyond this is the hydrotherapy zone where you’ll find the showers (it has a check-in desk where you need to report in). Having skipped coffee on the flight, I made myself a cappuccino and ordered the vegetarian breakfast, plus toast, which I settled down to enjoy in the relaxed surroundings.
With that out of the way, I posted the day’s Coffee Spot, all about Phin Coffee House, which I’d visited the day before in Boston. Then I packed up my things, collected my bags and hurried out to catch the 10:53 bus. Not that I needed to hurry, since it was 35 minutes late and, disappointingly, there was no information, either at the stop or online (which was showing the coach as running on time).
There was quite a queue by the time it arrived and it already had a considerable load from the main bus station, where it had started off. It was easily the busiest I’ve seen the Railair coach, with every other seat taken. In many ways, this is a good thing since it means it will keep running, but it was quite a shock after being used to having the coach almost to myself for so long!
We got back to Guildford at 12:25, but not before we’d called at The Chase, the weird stop that requires the coach to take a 10-minute diversion around the back of Guildford. Ostensibly a stop to serve the University, I’ve always been very rude about it, but I take it all back since eight people got off there!
This concludes my second trip of the year to Portland (Maine). Thanks for coming along and I hope you have enjoyed it. In case you are wondering, I didn’t have any significant problems with jet lag on this trip, despite arriving in the UK on Tuesday morning and leaving again (very early) on Friday to go to Berlin. Clearly I’ve been doing something right!
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