A First Class Indian Adventure Part 9: A First Class Farewell

We headed over to check in and the man guarding the queue asked, “Business or Economy?” I replied, “First!” My reply was greeted with a response of, “Coach?” I corrected him with, “First Class” and we were immediately jumped to the front of the queue. Our bags were correctly tagged with the yellow oneworld First priority tags, our boarding passes were issued and we were handed some gold coloured First branded hand luggage tags. Our next port of call was the merry dance of security and passport control. We joined the business and first class line and as usual it was the only thing that moved more slowly in India than the Mumbai traffic. After our passports were finally checked we made a quick turn through security which surprised us by being completely empty. We then continued down the escalator to the departures area. As largely painless as the experience was for us it was evident that this portion of the airport experience would not be missed after the switch to the brand new Terminal 2.

We did a little shopping and I purchased a birthday card for my sister made partly from elephant dung, the joke potential was just too much to turn down! Shopping completed it was time to visit the lounge, which in the old terminal was a shared business and first class facility.

British Airways Galleries Lounge (This Lounge Closed in 2014)
Access For oneworld First Class, Business Class and Emerald or Sapphire Status

We then hit the BA Galleries Lounge and watched three hours fly by.
I enjoyed an oversized G & T, one last packet of Magic Masala crisps and plenty of coffee.

During our visit I particularly enjoyed eavesdropping on a conversation about maximising miles from a gentleman that turned out to be sat in 1K on our flight. I wondered if he was on FlyerTalk and if so had he ever read any of my trip reports. It is sad to think that just a few weeks after we passed through it, this lounge was consigned to the scrap heap with the opening of the amazing looking Terminal 2 at Mumbai Airport. As an added bonus I even get to see Chelsea take 1-0 lead over City before boarding. I wondered what the result would be some ten hours later?

Flight: British Airways BA138 BOM-LHR
Depart: Mumbai 02:40
Arrive: London 06:55
Seats: Seats 2A 3K and 2K (First)
Aircraft: 747-400 (G-CIVP First Flight 17/02/1998)

A short while after the half time whistle blew in the game we were called for boarding. By this point both of us were rather annoyed as during our time in the lounge we were repeatedly pestered to give up one of our seats for a passenger who it appeared could not cope sitting as far back as row three. We finally caved in once we were offered a decent alternative but after hearing what came out of the mouth of the nice gentleman who had settled into 2A we really wished we hadn’t been so generous, but that’s for later on!

Our boarding passes were scanned and annoyingly for this trip it was yet another bus gate! We rode around the airport and finished up right next to the new terminal building where our Queen of the Skies was parked up and getting ready to fly us home to London. I looked up and smiled when I saw the blanked out windows up front so I knew we would luckily have the New First product again. We climbed the stairs and got a wonderful warm welcome from the crew and an equally sincere apology for them not being able to escort us to our seats.

The cabin filled up and I briefly spoke to a lady who was less than impressed with her journey through the airport.

I told her that we arrived very early and other than immigration, the process and queues were non existent. The talkative frequent flyer from the lounge settled into 1K and straight away told the member of cabin crew who welcomed him how happy he was that he was working his flight again after being served by him on his outbound flight. I joined in telling him, “I cant wait, no pressure today!”

He and his crew mates certainly didn’t let us down.
Amenity kits and water bottles were handed out and of course last to enter and seemingly impervious to the calming blue of the First cabin was our ‘friend’ Mr 2A.

As I said, I was curious as to what kindly soul would kick up such a fuss as to have us booted out of our assigned seats. We very quickly found out as the conversation started with the words, “lunch”, Keith Williams, “complaint!” Seriously, the nerve of some people. From my many years of working with the public this was the kind of person who would make me cringe immediately as you knew whatever you did they would either find fault or politely threaten your job if you dare told them what they had asked for was not possible. It was obvious he was an important customer to BA but could he not have used a little more humour and tact like the man in 1K? I know there are always two sides to every story and that I should be less judgemental but it did make me wonder why he continued to fly with an airline he clearly didn’t like. As we prepared for departure a number of passengers started changing into their dark blue first class sleeper suits. Shortly before take off we received a friendly welcome visit from the Cabin Service Director (CSD) and despite being a lowly Blue member of BA’s Executive Club I still got a thank you and a handshake.

We were soon up in the air and despite it being 03:00 the crew were upset that I had only ordered dessert and a glass of dessert wine when they came round to take meal orders. Further reinforcing what a good flight this would be, I received an apology for having to wait for the wine to chill as they couldn’t open the bar until after take off due to Indian customs regulations/costs.

I changed for bed and shortly after returning to my seat I was served a glass of perfectly chilled D’Arenberg Riesling alongside a bowl of warmed nuts.
This was followed shortly by my dessert of orange and cardamom torte with orange sauce.

Both the pudding and my wine were light, fruity and deliciously sweet and it felt like I’d made up for missing out on this luxurious treat on the outbound flight. Whilst being encouraged by the ever friendly crew to order more food I had to explain that we’d stuffed ourselves silly on a street food tour before the flight. I then talked with the crew member a little about what we had been up to in Mumbai. I finished my wine and before I knew it my glass was full up again. It was a great team up front today, a mix of understated anticipation and gentle mothering, which from my limited experience seem to be BA’s speciality.

As I prepared to settle down and sleep the most motherly member of that night’s cabin crew encouraged me to take a night time drink so I ordered an espresso. Yes, I know what you’re thinking but before you say anything coffee helps me to sleep!

I tried my best to nod off and I ended up having about about six hours of intermittent light sleep punctuated with a few more bathroom breaks than I’d hoped for!

Although I didn’t feel ill, the street food was certainly working its magic and I would have almost certainly regretted it along with my seat mates if I’d been sat in a window seat in the middle of economy, but as I was sat in my plush first class throne with no need to excuse, squeeze past or step over, it really didn’t matter one bit! By the time we were three hours away from London I had given up on sleep entirely, so I fired up the IFE to watch The Butler. I thought the acting was superb, in particular Forest Whitaker in the lead role. I liked the different ways that the film tackled politics and that whether the story was covering race, poverty or family it handled the conflicting views with equal and appropriate intensity. I also felt that after spending time at the Gandhi museums during our trip it was poignant to see the great man’s influence on the USA’s struggle for freedom and equal rights. (It was a real surprise reading my notes to find this was what I’d watched and what a crazy coincidence it is that I’m working on this post with all the race related protests across the world in June 2020)

After seeing that I was awake I was offered some morning drinks, “How about one of those funny little coffees again? Would you like anything to eat?” asked the motherly FA. “I’ll have some fruit and a bacon roll in about half an our, thanks.”
“Are you sure that’s all?”
she asked.

Breakfast was decent and though these bacon rolls wouldn’t hold water to a St John bacon sandwich, they certainly hit the spot that morning.
After refusing all the various top ups I got changed for landing and tidied up a bit before finishing off The Butler.

Other than it being a little choppy at times this was a great flight, made even better by the calming panoramic view of early morning lights of London getting ready for a busy day during our final approach towards Heathrow. We had such a smooth landing that it was almost unreal after the hard and fast ones from our Indian friends.

We arrived on time, if not a little early into Terminal 5C and I felt a few pangs of sadness come over me as our trip was almost at an end. World Traveller Plus were held back until the lucky seven of us up front had disembarked, with the CSD at the door leading the thank you chorus. We walked over to the transit train and were quickly through the eGates. The baggage belt sprung into action a minute or so after we’d arrived at reclaim and both our bags were amongst the first ten off.

At this point Anne-So wanted to head home, but I convinced her to visit the arrivals lounge for a second breakfast.

British Airways The Concorde Breakfast Room
Access For BA First Class Passengers and CCR Card Only

We received a nice welcome into the Galleries Arrivals Lounge and dropped our bags off at reception. We waited briefly with another perplexed customer to see if we could get an Elemis Spa appointment but there seemed to be nobody there so after five minutes or so we gave up as caffeine called us to the the Concorde Breakfast Room.

The room was small and so quiet you would almost certainly have heard a pin drop.
I enjoyed the back page of The Times over breakfast before we headed off to the Heathrow Express.

We departed the lounge and collected our things before walking down to the Heathrow Express platform.

The Heathrow Express was its usual speedy self and we felt a fierce blast of icy cold air when we exited the train at Paddington.

I fired up Uber and we were soon in the calm expanse of an immaculate S Class and on our way home. Our driver made polite conversation and before we knew it we were hauling our bags upstairs to our flat.

Our trip was finally over in what had felt like no time at all. With two bereavements and a birthday to catch up on whilst we were away a lot had been missed back in the UK. We spent the rest of the day relaxing at home and I made sure I had the chance to collect my thoughts on what had been a truly amazing time.

Final Thoughts

After completing our second trip to India all I can say is that I can’t wait to go back and that my appetite for returning to the sub-continent has only increased in the six years that have passed since our visit. I very much hope you felt my love for the country from reading this trip report. Being such a huge country, try as you might you cannot ever hope to see the full highlights reel on a simple two week holiday, though with our passions for food, landscapes, travel and history I think we worked well to cram in a bit of everything we enjoy without lessening the impact of the individual sights, sounds, tastes and smells that India has to offer.

So what did I learn that will set me up for my next trip to India? I thought our flights with BA were overall excellent. If I can save up the Avios and get another companion voucher I’d love to do BA First again, despite what certain travel bloggers will have you think, it is clearly superior all round compared to Qatar Airways business class and I’m fairly confident that wont change should we get to fly their excellent looking Qsuite. That said over the past few years there have been some very good sale fares with Lufthansa/Swiss and I’d love to try the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt or the amazing looking lounge in Zurich where you can enjoy a fondue on the terrace! Domestically I was happy with our strategy of completing the shorter journeys by train and the longer ones by plane. With a couple of excellent low cost carriers we were definitely spoilt for choice, though I’d also love to try the more premium Air India and Vistara on our next visit.

My destination highlights were hard to pull together as almost every leg of our trip had something unforgettable. The wonderful suite and service from The Oberoi in Mumbai when we arrived into India. The amazing steam train in Ooty and the unforgettable food on our private island in Alleppey. Our wonderful guide at Arjuna’s Penance in Mamallapuram and the stunning spectacle of colours at the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai. Last but not least the way we rounded off our trip with a spectacular street food inspired tour with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law in Mumbai.

The anticipation ahead of this Indian Adventure kept me going for six months at work when I really didn’t want to be there and the lasting memories it created helped see me through the incredibly disruptive year that followed. Within a year and a half of returning from India I had changed jobs twice, moved away from London and made a whole new set of friends. Yes, it wasn’t easy to get there but looking back it always felt like this trip gave me not just the confidence to start afresh but helped push my life in a better direction. Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to share another of my adventures with you soon.


A First Class Indian Adventure

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