It’s a long long way to Abu Dhabi

>Planning the trip

In November 2006 I dabbled with the concept of status runs in Bahrain. Back then it was not through need, but simply a jolly at a price I couldn’t refuse. However, a change in job has meant twice-weekly flights are a thing of the past for me, and if I’m going to keep my BA Gold card for another year I’ll have to stick my hand in my pocket.

British Airways have a daily flight from London to Muscat, with a brief stop in Abu Dhabi. That brief stop is the key to a Status Run because it means I can get on at Abu Dhabi and fly the last little hop to Muscat in First Class for a fraction of the normal price, whilst earning full FIRST Tier Points. Two hours later I can get on the return flight to London, hop off at Abu Dhabi, explore the city, and do the same thing the following day.

This, of course, assumes that I’m in Abu Dhabi to begin with. Using a stack of bmi miles, I can fly on Lufthansa to Abu Dhabi from London in First Class. However I can cut the number of miles down significantly by flying from a city in a different zone – in this case, Barcelona.

Now to get to Barcelona. Well, I had a soon to expire BA Gold Upgrade For Two voucher which meant I and a friend could buy cheap-as-chips economy flights and upgrade to Club Europe for free, earning full Club miles and tier points – another donation to the Save Schofs’ Status cause.

Now all that remained was to find a friend strange enough to willingly take this trip, but normal enough to not annoy me, and I was sorted. Enter Alex (of Taking On Vegas fame).

London Heathrow to Barcelona in British Airways Club Europe

We had an evening flight to Barcelona and were working in London during the day. We were flying from T1, but with a complete baggage failure at T4 and with fog delaying all flights from Heathrow, it didn’t look like it was going to be a smooth departure.

Working in St. Paul’s I took the tube to Paddington, and then the Heathrow Express to Terminal 1. We headed straight for Zone R (Terminal 1’s premium check-in area), which was almost empty – this was a good sign. In moments we were checked in, through security and to the Lounge Pavilion… the Office Desk to Champagne time was 1 hour on the nose.

Except it wasn’t. When we arrived at the FIRST lounge, it was heaving – standing room only and not a nice place to be. We went round the corner into the Terraces (Business) lounge which, while still busy, was much bigger and had a few sofas free. After half an hour we noticed that most flights on the board were showing delayed, but ours had no information at all. Then came the first announcement; “British Airways regret to announce a cancellation to the following flights…” followed by about 10 flight numbers and cities. Barcelona was not one of them.

If our flight was cancelled, it would be game over for the trip. We wouldn’t get to Barcelona in time for our early flight to Frankfurt. We couldn’t just fly straight to Frankfurt the next day as our Lufthansa flights would be cancelled if we missed the first sector. We’d just have to go home and pray we could get our miles and money back.

Another hour passed, and another 10 flights were cancelled. Again, Barcelona was not one of them. Then, miraculously, our flight began boarding just 45 minutes late. As we noted the departures board on the way out it seemed that only about 2 flights would be leaving that night, and for some reason ours was one of them.

We were bussed from the Terminal to a our aeroplane which sat waiting at a remote stand. We boarded and took our seats, 2A and 2C, and the cabin slowly filled up. The doors were closed and we were ready to go.

Unfortunately nobody else was ready for us to go – the captain had called for a tractor to push us back, but they were apparently very busy tonight. This was odd given only about 2 flights were leaving! After another hour, the flight we feared would never go anywhere eventually pushed back. We were on our way.

If the crew were annoyed at the delays, it didn’t show – they were fantastic; very efficient, friendly, and we were never short of a drink. We landed 2 hours late, well fed, and 8 bottles of champagne down, but most importantly, we’d made it to Barcelona for our flight to Frankfurt. Result.

The Best Western Hotel, Barcelona Airpot

As I walked through Barcelona Airport, I realised I wasn’t sure where the cheap hotel we’d booked was, or how we were going to get there. Given it had the name “aeropuerto” in it’s title, I figured it would have a shuttle service, so I used my Blackberry to find their website and then gave them a call as we walked through the terminal (exercising my best Spanish, then resorting to English in a Spanish Accent, but louder).

We were directed to a bus stand between Terminal’s B and C, and our shuttle arrived 5 minutes later. Surprisingly everyone in Barcelona seemed to be on the same road as us at nearly midnight, and it took a good 30 minutes to get to the hotel.

We paid €72 (£50) for a twin room, which was about the cheapest we could find, and as it turned out was well worth the money. The check in staff were all smiles, our room was comfortable and it even had a funky new bathroom. The view was great… if you have a keen interest in postal and freight delivery centres – otherwise it was best to keep the windows and curtains closed.

Given it was now nearly 1am, and we had a 7am flight to Frankfurt, it was time to crash and get what little sleep we could. 4 hours later the alarm went off, and 15 minutes later we were on the shuttle back to Barcelona Airport.

Barcelona to Frankfurt in Lufthansa Business Class

We arrived at the terminal with over and hour to spare before our flight to Frankfurt. We found the Lufthansa check in desks, and our boarding passes for both legs were printed… with wrong seats and without our Gold Star Alliance status. We asked for our seats to be changed back to 1A/C (we had been given row 6) and for our bmi numbers to be re-entered into the system. 5 minutes of tapping later and all was right with the world again.

Once through security we headed for the Spanair business lounge, which was fairly basic but did provide comfy sofas and orange juice. It wasn’t too long before our flight was called and we made our way to the gate for boarding.

Business Class was fairly empty with just 3 other people spread amongst the 6 rows. Lufthansa convert their 3×3 economy seats to 2×2 business seats, making each seat wider and adding a table where the middle seat was. They were surprisingly comfortable, which was lucky as shortly after closing the doors the Captain announced that we‚Äôd be sat on the ground for an hour. Fog in Frankfurt meant that planes were having trouble landing, so they were delaying all flights due to fly to Frankfurt to relieve the queue which was rapidly growing.

This fog was doing us no favours at all. I’d given us a decent 3 hour connection time in Frankfurt to enjoy the First Class Terminal, but it turned out to be 2 hours before we finally took off. If we were delayed long when trying to land in Frankfurt it was possible we wouldn’t make our connecting flight to Abu Dhabi, let alone get any time in the First Class Terminal.

As we flew to Frankfurt, the cabin crew helped us to sparkling wine and breakfast. It was the same breakfast I’d had in 2005 on the first leg of my flights to Cairo… and it hadn’t got any better. What Alex assured me was goat’s cheese (which I like very much) tasted terrible. I’d learnt my lesson, I won’t be having it again.

Other than the food, it was a good flight. The crew were efficient, though not overly friendly. The sparkling wine was not too sweet, and the crew kept our glasses topped up.

We had to circle for about 15 minutes over Frankfurt before we could come in to land, so we knew we’d have to be quick when we disembarked. This is where things started to look up. As we walked down the steps to the tarmac, a lady was holding a board with our names on it. She took us to a waiting Mercedes and off we went… although not as far as we’d hoped. They knew we were flying in First Class for our next flight, but they could only take us as far as the main terminal. Once there we had to go through immigration, find the Lufthansa First Class Check in desks, and then wait for another car to take us to the First Class Terminal.

Having a car collect you from your flight is an excellent service offered by Lufthansa… if only they could just make that tiny jump to taking you all the way to the First Class Terminal.

Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi in Lufthansa First Class

Another Mercedes took us to our terminal, and as we entered a lady came to greet us and checked our boarding passes. We then walked through security in seconds and into the terminal lounge.

I’d used the terminal once before en route to Cairo, and it hadn’t changed; it still felt as though it had been built yesterday. It was clean, stylish, and exactly what you’d expect from a First Class product.

We were hungry and knew we didn’t have long until our next flight. We took our seats in the dining area and a waitress took our drinks order. We also both ordered Steak, salad and chips, but yet again I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book. They weren’t the juicy, fluffy on the inside crispy on the outside chips that I was expecting… oh no. They were crisps. Nice rosemary crisps, I’ll give them that, but not chips. Despite this the meal was exceptional, with the steak beautifully rare.

We had only enough time to finish our plates before a lady came to collect us and take us to our car. We took the lift down a level to where the cars were waiting, and after our passports were checked we were taken to a Mercedes. A very nice American couple were also taking this flight in First Class, and we shared the car with them to our plane.

We boarded and were shown to our seats; Lufthansa’s First Class on the A340 has 8 seats in 2 rows of 1-2-1, and we had the middle front two, 1D and 1G. We were brought champagne before takeoff, and when the crew realised it was our birthdays they each came and shook our hands and congratulated us.

Their enthusiasm didn’t stop there – throughout the entire flight they couldn’t do enough for us. Our champagne glasses were never empty, and they stopped regularly for chats.

The food was excellent, worlds apart from that served on the previous short haul flight. Starters and deserts were shown to us on a trolley which is a nice touch.

The aeroplane had the new business class installed, which meant it also had Audio/Video On Demand. However the screens in First Class were still the original small ones, and they could certainly do with an upgrade. In addition the selection of films wasn’t that great, but it was better than the system it replaced. I was surprised however that the IFE in First Class did not have noise cancelling headphones, and the ones that are there are fixed so you can’t easily add your own.

We touched down briefly in Bahrain to refuel and let a few passengers on and off, before continuing the final short hop to Abu Dhabi.

Overall I thought this was another excellent First Class flight on Lufthansa, and came away as refreshed and relaxed as I had done the last time I’d flown with them.

We disembarked and entered the main terminal at Abu Dhabi, which was surprisingly funky. As you leave the gate area you enter a huge colourful torus with all of the duty free shops.

Once through immigration we found the taxi rank just outside and we were off to our hotel.

The InterContinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi

It was about 11pm when we arrived at the IC Abu Dhabi. The taxi took about 30 minutes and cost 65 Dirhams (about £10). We had booked the cheapest possible room with 2 separate beds, and had fingers crossed an upgrade to a suite with twin beds with my Royal Ambassador status. Unfortunately all of the suites in the hotel had a single King bed… so that wasn’t going to happen! Instead I just asked for an upgrade to a Deluxe Club room, which the reception staff said he wouldn’t do because it wasn’t policy. Given we were entitled to this as a minimum upgrade, I wasn’t particularly impressed with his response, but it was late and I decided I’d just speak to the manager in the morning.

The hotel has recently had a full refurbishment and looks fantastic. The room was very comfortable, and certainly had the feel of a luxury hotel. The bathroom was a reasonable size, although the shower could have done with being larger. There was a welcome letter, fresh fruit, chocolates and a gift also waiting for me on the desk.

It’s also worth noting that there are no films available… except an on demand trailer of Bridget Jones’ Diary! I was happy to give this one a miss though.

The next morning I popped down to reception to speak to the manager. The Club Manager quickly appeared and said that Club access would be no problem at all, and apologised for the confusion. She was extremely quick to get everything sorted, and invited us up there for breakfast.

The breakfast spread was very good, with an excellent selection of fresh fruits, cereals and also the option of a cooked breakfast with eggs and omelettes made to order. The lounge staff were consistently brilliant throughout our 3 day stay and certainly added to the luxurious feel of the hotel. The lounge also had an excellent view of the city and marina area.

While in the lounge we also met up with another member of FlyerTalk, Andy, who was passing through Abu Dhabi on business and happened to be staying at the hotel. Since our stays overlapped by 2 days, he was good enough to show us around the city as he had visited many times before.

The InterContinental (at time of writing) is the only hotel in Abu Dhabi to have its own private beach, which was a 2 minute walk around the Marina. With plenty of sun loungers and shades it was an ideal place to either catch some sun, or just sit outside, relax and read.

Out in Abu Dhabi

The Marina Mall

A 30 minute walk from the hotel is the Marina Mall, housing many shops ranging from supermarkets to high end brand shops such as Bulgari and Cartier. When we went in February it was about 29 degrees, and a lovely temperature to walk in. However if you go in the height of summer you may want to take a cab. If you do decide to walk, you’ll pass this strange sculpture en route!

Photograph kindly taken by Andy – should you require his photographic services please enquire within… 🙂

Lunch at the Shangri-La Hotel

With the revelation that Alex and I were celebrating our birthdays that week, Andy very kindly offered to take us out to the Shangri-La for lunch. Having never been to a Shangri-La before, I was interested to see how the brand compared to other hotels. We certainly weren’t disappointed. From the moment we entered the magnificent building, we were welcomed by friendly and eager to help staff.

We decided to have lunch at the restaurant outside by the pool. It was a little windy, but the sun was shining and given I’d be in Cardiff in 3 days I was going to get as much sun as I could!

Suffice to say the meal was fabulous. I chose the Hammour and chips – very like cod and chips but, dare I say it, even better! This was rounded off with a selection of sorbets and an espresso at the poolside bar. The service was excellent, and I’m told this is by no means a rarity at Shangri-La hotels.

Quad Biking in the Desert

We were after something a little more adventurous than eating and drinking, so we stopped by the concierge and enquired about safaris and other desert activities. Quad biking seemed like a pretty good way to spend a morning so we booked it for the next day.

Having arrived back from a flight at 2am, the 7:30am alarm wasn’t a welcome sound. By 8:30 we were up, had finished breakfast, and were met in the lobby by Emirates Adventures who organised the quad biking.

After an hour’s journey into the middle of the desert we came to a small shack with 3 quad bikes outside. Following a brief demonstration (it didn’t require much instruction as it was an automatic) we were off, following in the tracks of the guide across the dunes.

We started off doing simple dune crossings, before moving to more exciting sideways drops off the sides of the dunes. At our request the guide took us to the largest dunes in the area, and while going down was great fun, we did occasionally find the quad bikes needed two attempts at climbing the dunes.

Lunch at the Fish Market, InterContinental Hotel

One of the new restaurants that has opened with the refurbishment of the InterContinental is the Fish Market, situated on the hotel’s beach just off the Marina.

To say the meal choices available are broad is somewhat of an understatement. There is no menu that you can hold… you create the menu. As you get settled and order your drinks, a basket of battered Hamour fish is placed before you to whet your appetite. When you’re ready, you’re taken inside and shown a vast selection of seafood, vegetables and salad items, and you choose what you want, how much, and exactly how you want it cooked. You can tell the food you’re eating is fresh because you can see it before it goes anywhere near the chef.

Needless to say it tasted sublime. If you’re into seafood in any way, put this restaurant high on your list if you’re staying in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi – Muscat – Abu Dhabi in British Airways First Class

We booked 2¬Ω return flights, starting in Abu Dhabi and completing the run in Muscat as we wanted to spend a day there.

We took a taxi to the airport, which cost 85 Dirhams (£12) due to a different company operating the (slightly more luxurious) taxis. Upon arrival we made our way through a First & Business Fast Track (although unpoliced) to an initial security check and then to on the premium check in area.

For some reason our BA Executive cards didn’t show on the boarding passes at first (despite us having checked in Online using our Executive Club accounts), but a few key taps later by the agent and new boarding passes were issued. We then continued through a First & Business immigration gate (with never more than one person queuing) before carrying on to the lounge.

The Al Ghazal lounge is shared by all airlines except Ethiad who have their own lounge next door. While the lounge was not huge, it was certainly large enough for the few flights departing each evening, and there was always a sofa going spare.

The lounge has a bar serving alcohol, a small selection of light bites (including a self service panini toaster), and 4 computers with internet access.

Our flights were announced by the lounge attendant in person, and we made our way back through the torus to our gate.

On our first flight we were met by a very friendly member of crew who took one look at our boarding passes and announced “Mr Chris and Mr Alex, we’ve been expecting you!”. As we walked into the cabin it was clear why – we were the only passengers in the First Class cabin. In fact there had not been one passenger in FIRST on the flight from London to Abu Dhabi either. As a result, we were treated to a very personal service indeed. The Blanc De Blanc champagne was following according to the PETUR (Pre-Emptive Top Up Regime).

The flight was very short – around 40 minutes door to door, so it wasn’t long before we touched down and were disembarking. Most gates at Muscat Seeb International Airport are remote stands, so there’s always a bus ride to the terminal. Interestingly there is no separate bus for Business and First passengers on this route as we had in Doha.

Once you’re out of the bus you have 2 options. Head left and follow signs to transfers and then to the lounge, or straight on for immigration. Because of the way we’d booked tickets, we didn’t have boarding passes for the return segments, so we always went through immigration.

The trick here is to be the first off the bus (using the front right hand door of the bus) and then run, or at least walk quickly, to the Travelex at the end of the immigration hall. Here you pay 6 Rials for a single entry visa – ideally have the cash ready in the correct currency or you’ll be charged for the conversion. Then you join the Visit Visa queues to set foot on Omani soil. Well, sand.

Once into the arrivals hall it’s back to check in to collect new boarding passes, through plenty more security checks, and on into the lounge.

The lounge in Muscat isn’t great, but it does for the hour’s wait for the return flight. It has 5 computers with internet access and a free bar serving alcohol. Other than that, it’s just a selection of fairly tired looking sofas, but it does the job.

When your flight’s called, you exit the lounge and ignore signs to the gates. If you follow them, you’ll be going up an escalator, across a large duty free floor, down some stairs, and then into the gates area. Instead, there are doors in the wall to the left of the escalator which lead straight to the gates, and most importantly you won’t be behind everyone else in the queue for yet another security checkpoint before boarding the buses to the plane.

The cabin crew rotations are exactly the same as on the flights out to Bahrain/Doha – they fly all the way to Muscat, spend 24 hours on the ground, and operate the flight back. Therefore on our second return flight we were greeted by the excellent crew we had on our first flight out to Muscat.

Needless to say it was another excellent flight – a bottomless champagne bottle, brilliant service, and we were even treated to a Marilyn Munroe “Happy Birthday” impression by the CSD!! Now that’s service! Our friend Andy picked up this flight to London when we got off at Abu Dhabi, and he had a great flight all the way home.

Once on the ground in Abu Dhabi, it was simply a case of clearing immigration again, and it’s straight back in a taxi to the hotel.

If only every flight could be that special, but the sad fact is that when you take so many flights in succession, the odds are you’re going to have one that’s a bit of a disappointment. Our final Abu Dhabi to Muscat was one such flight. No pre-flight drinks; in fact my first sip of wine came 25 minutes into the flight and was taken back after another 2 minutes to get ready for landing. Crews are normally up well before the seatbelt sign goes off preparing drinks and canapés, but the CSD and crew we still sat in their seats chatting away to each other long after everyone else could roam around the cabin.

I hate sounding like an “I fly first class so I expect everyone to do everything for me” idiot… and I certainly don’t have that philosophy, but I do ask for the basic service that I pay for. What I really feel is a bit cheated when I do invest quite a bit in my loyalty to BA.

The InterContinental Hotel, Muscat

After our final BA flight to Muscat, we had 24 hours to explore the city before starting our journey home. We jumped in a taxi and 20 minutes and 7 Rials later we were pulling up at the InterContinental Muscat.

It was late when we arrived, but the Club Lounge was still open and we were directed up there for check in. We’d only booked the most basic room using Priority Club reward points, but we were pleasantly surprised to find we’d been upgraded to a Club level room, and they honoured the free mini bar benefits of Royal Ambassador status, neither of which they are required to do on a points stay.

There were no films on the TV system in our room, but we weren’t there long enough to warrant them anyway.

The Club Lounge in Muscat was much smaller than the one in Abu Dhabi, but it did have 2 computers and served a basic breakfast in the mornings.

Out in Muscat

The Mutrah Suq

Just 10 minutes drive towards the Old Town lies a fabulous traditional market place called the Mutrah Suq. The immediate hit of incense and an almost infinite array of bright colours were a shock to the senses. The Suq was a vibrant swarm of locals and visitors, and to walk amongst it all as a spectator was fascinating.

Following on from the delicious lunch in the Abu Dhabi hotel, Alex and I took a cab to the Shangri-La in Muscat. It’s actually not one but three hotels, with all day dining offered at the middle hotel, Al Bandar.

Once again, the service was superb from the very first step we took through the door. We were greeted in the lobby as though they had been expecting us, and took us to a lovely outdoor restaurant just up from the hotel’s beach.

The lobster in Oman is tipped to be exceptional, so we both ordered the sea food platter. We weren’t disappointed. It was an exquisite feast and I would definitely recommend it.

The Shangri-La also has its own beach ‚Äì we wandered down there after lunch, and while my back was turned Alex tried his hand at creating his own video documentary…

Half way between the Airport and our hotel was The Grand Mosque. Unfortunately it’s only open during the mornings, but it would be a shame not to visit such a magnificent building. We took a taxi from the hotel, and for around 3 Rials (£4) he waited half an hour for us to take a look around.

The mosque is so large it just wasn’t possible to get it all in a photo – to take this I one had to stand almost in the road dodging the cars. It’s hard to appreciate what an impressive structure it is without standing in front of it – I just wish we could have gone inside.

Muscat to Frankfurt in Lufthansa Business Class

We arrived at the airport a good few hours early – before check in was even open. To kill some time we felt that we should support the local eateries and stopped by one such authentic deli for supper.

It was still a while before check in was due to open, but fortunately we managed to jump a Lufthansa agent that happened to be walking past, and he very kindly arranged for a desk to be opened for us.

Once checked in, it was through security to the same lounge we’d visited twice before on our British Airways runs. Only this time the internet wasn’t working, which left little else to do than read and drink.

When our flight was called for boarding, we again used the short cut through the door to the departure gates, and as we went out to the buses we were directed onto a separate one for Business and First passengers. Just before the bus pulled away, two Texans also boarded the bus. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have thought this worth mentioning, but because they were drunk and swearing and shouting at people on the other buses I’ve made an exception.

As we boarded our flight we turned left into a small Business cabin of just 2 rows of 6 seats. There is another larger cabin behind the galley, but the forward cabin is generally quieter with less people.

Quieter, that is, if the two Texans hadn’t been sitting directly behind us. Still swearing and shouting, they also complained to the staff about not being served alcohol before take-off… in a dry country.

I asked the Purser if we could move seats, but as we had a short stop in Doha where more passengers could get on, she didn’t know which seats would be free. We just had to hope that they’d soon put on their headphones and watch a film.

What a time for the In Flight Entertainment not to be working. For the next 90 minutes we heard the Texans’ amazing ability to swear about every topic from how much money they earned to the age old question: “Who is God anyway?”

With each new topic they got louder, and even the ear plugs could do little against such a force. We had no choice but to put up with it and pray they either fell asleep or fell out of the aeroplane.

We landed in Doha, and while new passengers boarded, technicians kept resetting the movie system in the hope that it would spring to life. At least the screens provided an insight into why the AVOD systems are so unreliable… they run on Windows.

Four resets later and the flight had to leave for the long haul to Frankfurt. Miraculously the forth IFE reset was the one that saved us, and very probably the lives of two Texans too. It worked. They put on their headphones, looked at the pictures on the screen, and 10 minutes later the only sound we heard was them snoring their little heads off.

We were served a very light meal with drinks while watching a movie, before turning our seats into beds and trying to get some sleep.

When I previously flew in Lufthansa Business Class back from Cairo we had old style seats which reclined but didn’t turn into a bed. Two years on and a new product is installed which is a massive improvement. The seat now converts into a lie-flat bed (or “wedgie-bed”). This means that it is completely flat, but at an incline of 9 degrees to the ground, and when you wake up you find you’ve slipped down the bed and it’s given you a wedgie.

It was actually very comfortable, and before I knew it we were 20 minutes from landing and I’d missed breakfast!

We touched down on time, and moments later we were walking up the jetty into the terminal building.

Frankfurt to Barcelona in Lufthansa Business Class

On entering the terminal we spied a Lufthansa First/Senator lounge that our bmi Gold cards gave us access to, so we stopped there for a while to shower and have a bite to eat. Forty minutes before our flight to Barcelona we made our way towards the gate.

This was not nearly as short a walk as we’d hoped for. We had to clear immigration and passport control, walk through a never ending underground passage from zone B to zone A, clear passport control and security scanners, and then walk another ridiculous distance to the gate where our flight was already well into boarding.

Once on board, we watched the safety video and then promptly fell asleep. There was no way I was going to risk the breakfast again, and having only had 4 hours sleep on the inbound flight I had no intention of doing anything else.

I woke to the thud of the wheels hitting tarmac, and we were soon disembarking. It was only when we walked out into the arrivals hall that I realised we hadn’t gone through any passport control, which I thought was more than a little strange.

We paid a quick visit to the BA desks as we hadn’t been able to check in online for our flight, and collected our boarding passes. We also dropped our bags into a luggage storage area as we didn’t want to have to drag them around Barcelona, and then joined the queue for a Taxi.

Out in Barcelona

Our first stop was at Parc Guell on the opposite side of the city. Eusebi Güell commissioned Antonio Gaudi who wanted to create a stylish park for Barcelona aristocracy.

When we were all Gaudied out, we jumped back in a taxi and headed for Plaza Catalunya in the centre of town. From here we walked through some of the old streets, and stopped off at a Tapas bar for a spot of brunch.

We then came to an excellent outdoor food market just off of La Rambla in Mercat St. Joseph La Bouqueria with an enormous market of fresh fish, meat, vegetables, cheese, ham and fruit, as well as a few indistinguishables 🙂

We were due to meet with a former work colleague of mine, but with an hour to kill first we stopped in at a cafe in the square for a few espressos. We now also held our complete set of boarding passes, which allowed for a unique game of Top Trumps based on cabin, status, sequence number and seat.

Lunch was at a very un-Spanish Hard Rock Café, but I have to say the burgers there were excellent (and I know my burgers).

No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a trip to the beach, and while I sat down to read my book, Alex set about trying to impress the passing ladies…

During our taxi ride back to Barcelona airport, it began to dawn on us that another epic trip was drawing to a close. We had one flight left, and we crossed our fingers for a good crew.

Barcelona to London Heathrow in British Airways Club Europe

I had originally booked to fly back into London Gatwick, but a cabin crew shortage at Gatwick meant BA changed this to an all-economy charter flight operated by Astraeus. What could have potentialy been a ruined holiday was saved by a quick call to BA who moved us onto the Heathrow flight and back into the Club cabin.

When we arrived at the airport we already had our boarding passes, so we just collected our bags from the storage area and went straight through security into the departures lounge.

BA share the use of Iberia’s lounge for Business and status passengers, and while it wasn’t a particularly great lounge, it was fairly spacious and allowed us to kick back and have a few drinks before our flight.

First off Alex tried the white wine. Rather than describe its fruity complexities and subtle overtones of greengages and wallnuts, I thought a photo would say it all.

Unsurprisingly the gate for our BA flight was right at the far end of the terminal. By the time we eventually arrived we joined the fairly lengthy queue of passengers waiting to board and played the waiting game.

Once on board we took up residence in seats 1A and 1C, and it wasn’t long before we once again hurtled down the runway and up into the clouds.

The crew, thankfully, were great. Chatty, efficient, and they never risked our glasses running dry. The flight was a little under 2 hours, during which we were served Chicken with Gnocci, gently washed down by 7 bottles of champagne. Alex worked on the quick crossword, which to be honest he struggled with after a few drinks. We eventually got through it, although I did cheat with a thesaurus on “Human trunk”, 5 letters.

As the wheel rubber gave the familiar screech on the tarmac, we knew that was it. 11 flights were over in just a couple of days. All that was left was to walk back through Heathrow terminal, through the IRIS machine at immigration, and scan the sea of faces in the arrivals hall for our driver to take us home.

The Aftermath

Although the initial reason for this trip was a status run to maintain BA Gold, yet again it turned into a fantastic jolly. It didn’t seem like only 6 days had passed, that we’d only been out of the office for 4 days, and as I sit at my desk in London I find it very hard to believe that 2 days ago I was quad biking across a desert.

So to try and put this into some perspective, I leave you with a few statistics.

Days travelling: 6
Flights taken: 11
Miles flown: 10,279 miles
Average speed: 71 mph (including time asleep)
Champagne drunk: 107.5 glasses (between us, excluding all other wines)
Champagne drink rate: ¾ (0.75) glasses per hour (between us, including time asleep)