Queen of the Skies
There’s something just “right” about seeing a BA Boeing 747-400 parked up at the gate at Heathrow T5; the shape is unarguably majestic. Whilst other more modern aircraft such as the A380 and 787 Dreamliner, with their higher cabin pressures and fresher air can be nicer to fly on, travelling on a “Jumbo” is still an event. If I hadn’t used air miles to upgrade my Heathrow to New York JFK ticket to First class, I would have selected a seat on the upper deck where just 20 seats lend the cabin an almost private jet feel, but there’ll be opportunity to write about that before the end of this Gold Guest List craziness! Today I’m flying on G-CIVG, which according to The BA Source first flew in April 1995.
BA First Class, Boeing 747-400, LHR – JFK (140 TP)
There’s a 30 minute delay before we push back from the gate due to a delay loading the luggage. They serve Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle champagne in First, so time to sip that and try not to think about the effects of a long delay on my ever shortening connection time at JFK.
The First class cabin on the BA 747-400 has 14 seats and is located in the nose of the aircraft. Seats 1A and 1K are coveted by many as they give you an almost forward facing look out of the plane, and can only be booked in advance by BA Gold Card Holders. I’m in 2A, as row 1 was not available at time of booking, but it’s a good seat, nice and private and with an overhead bin that row 1 lacks (there’s a wardrobe at the front of the plane for row 1 carry ons).
First class also offers the option of dining on demand, so I choose to dine later and try to get some rest as I’ve had little sleep the night before.
Wind, Rain and a Closed Runway
As we get closer to New York, afternoon tea is served and the captain gives us an update on our progress. Unfortunately, weather in the New York area is poor with rain, wind, and at least one runway at JFK not operational meaning a potentially long weather related hold. This is definitely not what I want to hear, and the minutes drag on as we enter what seems like a holding eternity around 100 miles east of the city at 26000 feet, somewhere between Long Island and Cape Cod.
Eventually we’re told we have a slot for landing and can begin our approach. There’s a slight amount of turbulence as we hit the bad weather, but touch down smoothly. I still have about 2 hours to make my connection, but that means passing through immigration, getting the Air Train from Terminal 7 to Terminal 8 and re-clearing security once again. After an excruciatingly long taxi to the terminal, we’re close to the gate when the aircraft just stops, and memories flood back of a flight earlier in the year to Boston Logan when my A330 broke down on the tarmac after landing and had to be towed. Fortunately though, after another delay of a few minutes we’re moving again, and shortly we’re stopped at the gate. In a tiny piece of good fortune, more symbolic than material, the jet bridge pulls up at door 1L next to the First cabin, and I’m first off the plane with about 1 hour and 20 minutes until I need to board my next flight.
Immigration queues at JFK can be notoriously bad. In the past I’ve queued for 90 minutes on occasion. Anyone who’s landed internationally at JFK frequently will probably grimace at the memory of the immigration hall, with queues backing up the ramp to the gates. However, earlier in 2018 I was approved for Global Entry. This is a US Trusted Traveller programme, which involves background screening by the UK and US authorities, and an in-person interview in the US (though they have brief periods when they do interviews at the US Embassy in London). Acceptance allows you to skip the immigration queues when visiting the US; you simply put your passport in an electronic reader, answer a couple of basic questions, hand a slip to an immigration officer and enter the country.
In the end I get to the immigration hall and it’s absolutely empty other than US Border Force and TSA Officers. Apart from me, there’s not a traveller in sight! Passport in the Global Entry Machine, and I’m through immigration and into the arrivals hall under 5 minutes from stepping off the plane! Result!