Like Helsinki, Sofia is one of BA’s longer short-haul routes, with a flight time around 3 hours and earns 80 Tier Points each way in Club Europe. It’s a destination I’ve never visited before, and with fares reasonable and revision time for GCSE’s precluding a longer trip over Easter, it seems like a logical destination for a short family city break.
Heathrow to Sofia (80 Tier Points)
The BA890 from Heathrow to Sofia is an 08:05 departure which means a relatively early start and drive to the airport. After a short time relaxing in the lounge, the unwelcome sight of “Gate A10” appears on the monitor next to the flight number. Most of the time departing from Heathrow T5 means boarding the aircraft via a jet bridge, but occasionally it involves a bus to a remote aircraft stand, and these buses depart from A10, which is actually five separate gates A10a through A10e. There are lifts which take you down from the departure level in the terminal to the ground floor to board the buses. Often a bus to a remote stand means priority boarding and valuable space in overhead bins becomes something of a lottery, but today BA are policing things quite well and ensure the bus with business class customers and priority passengers departs first.
This outbound is on a A320 neo, tail number G-TTNA so the first one delivered to BA. The distinctive sharklets at the end of the wings each add around 200kg of weight, but they reduce fuel burn in the cruise by around 3.5%. The larger engines with their obviously lower ground clearance are also quieter and more efficient.
Sofia Airport Terminal 2, where BA and other non low-cast carriers land, is sleek and modern, having opened recently in 2006. Combined with Terminal 1, Sofia airport handles around 7 million passengers per annum. London is, by some margin, the single biggest passenger destination accounting for over 400 thousand of these passengers.
Opened in 2015, a metro station at Terminal 2 allows direct access to Line 1 of the Sofia Metro. For under £2 a modern train whisks us to the centre of Sofia in around 20 minutes. By contrast the Heathrow Express in London costs over ten times that amount for a similar distance.
The history of Sofia dates back almost 7000 years. It’s natural hot water springs (which still bubble up into public areas of the city) originally attracted human settlers. But it’s location has ensured a rich history, and has seen the city conquered and occupied by numerous different tribes, states and empires. As such it’s seen lots of bloodshed and strife, but despite some historic attempts to destroy visible references to different cultures, it remains something of a fusion of these cultures and architectures. We take advantage of one of the many students and artists with knowledge of the city’s history and culture who offer guided walking tours, taking in many of the central sights.
Sofia to Heathrow (80 Tier Points)
There are two OneWorld lounges in Terminal 2, Pliska and Preslav. Both seem to get similar reviews so we choose Pliska which is close to the departure gates. It’s quite small and basic, with only a limited selection of food and drinks, but comfortable enough for a short wait before boarding.
Our return flight is on another A320 neo, this time on G-TTND. With their reduced fuel burn in the cruise, it’s probably not a surprise that BA are deploying them on their longer routes where possible. Landing back into Heathrow on Runway 9R, there’s a great view of the scale of BA operations around its home base of Terminal 5 and its satellites.