THE FLIGHT DIARIES • December 2021
The day was 8 November 2021, the air was crisp and bristling with anticipation as the engines of flight BA001 geared up for an important journey: the first flight back to the Big Apple after 19 months of restrictions. Former High Life editor Mark Jones managed to bag himself a spot in the coveted cabin. Here, he shares his experience with The Club
The alarm goes off, unnecessarily. An author once wrote that all warriors can time their sleep and wake up the moment they need to. I guess the same is true of road warriors. But I’m more of a road worrier: I’ve been awake in the Sofitel Heathrow Terminal 5 all night worrying about missing the alarm and thus the flight.
This isn’t a flight you’d want to miss.
America has eased its restrictions. We’ll be on the first commercial service from London to New York after more than 600 days of lockdown. The busiest and most profitable long-haul route on the planet is back in business.
A glass of fine English Hattingley Valley sparkling wine is proffered as I walk on to the Concorde Terrace after a busy progress through security: the whole world feels as if it’s flying today. I wouldn’t usually have a glass of Chardonnay at this hour, but the sense of occasion makes this form of the grape feel compulsory. Anyway, it goes well with the smoked salmon bagels, pastrami sandwiches and other New Yorkish victuals.
On board, there’s a commemorative doughnut and stars and stripes bunting hanging from the overhead lockers. It’s as fine a late autumn morning as you could wish for. A long taxi, a wait and then an interesting message from the pilot: we are, it seems, waiting for Virgin before we can take off.
Watch as British Airways and @virginatlantic take off together from @Heathrow to mark the re-opening of flights to the USA for UK vaccinated passengers. #BritsAreBack #BackTogether #BritishAirways— British Airways (@British_Airways) November 9, 2021
I look out over the hangars and there, on the other side, sure enough, is Virgin Atlantic’s plane, perfectly level with ours. The engines roar, off we run, the Virgin aircraft like our shadow on the other runway. We take to the skies in perfect unison.
British Airways chairman and CEO Sean Doyle takes to the intercom to speak to his fellow passengers, and his message is much less about our destination than the stuff propelling us there. In the tanks on this A350, 35 per cent of the fuel comes from sustainable sources – the first time one of British Airways’ long-haul aircraft has flown with such a mixture. In that sense, at least, this flight is ostensibly not a return to business as usual.
Mark snaps his first view of New York
It’s the first time I’ve tried the new Club Suite. First impressions: the layout is ergonomic and intuitive. On the return flight, I’ll close the door to my pod and sleep like a baby.
But on the way to New York, there’s not much time to relax. Journalists are on the plane Wi-Fi frantically sending copy to their editors: this is a big news story today. The British Airways team, especially Sean Doyle, face six hours of questioning. By the time I grab ten minutes with him before the seatbelt signs go on, he looks as if he might prefer a week on an isolated Caribbean island rather than a couple of days in New York. He assures me a slug of Manhattan is what he needs: “I love the energy, the buzz.”
We disembark, walk to security and there’s a welcoming party of British Airways staff waving Union Jacks and the Stars and Stripes. Immigration is a breeze and we are through to an even noisier reception thanks to the local news crews. There’s a big yellow taxi full of flowers and cookies, with a British Airways poster of the Manhattan skyline behind it.
It’s gorgeous weather – in the mid 60s (as they put it here) and it stays that way: the jumpers and overcoats we brought will stay in our bags. From the 51st floor of the Conrad Hilton on West 54th (pictured above), the fall foliage of Central Park stretches out below like a red carpet. Hi New York, I’m coming on down.