Hello everyone and welcome to this new Flight review. Today, I'm continuing my journey to New York. This marks my third trip to the United States, but it's the first time I'll be exploring the bustling megacity of New York, along with its neighboring cities of Washington and Boston. Not only is this region known for being one of the most densely populated on the planet, but it's also home to the busiest airspace in the world, with over 1,500 flights passing through it each day, connecting the East Coast of the United States to all six continents.
About my flight
Among all these flights, you can find the world's longest route, between Singapore and New York, as well as the most economically profitable route. Indeed, the London Heathrow to New York JFK route generates over a billion dollars in revenue for British Airways each year, making it the only airline route in the world to cross the billion-dollar mark.
Furthermore, British Airways, in its efforts to diversify its operations, operates flights to New York not only from London Heathrow but also from London Gatwick. Additionally, British Airways serves not only the JFK Airport but also Newark Airport. Before the pandemic, the UK's national carrier even operated a special all-Business Class flight on the A318 aircraft between London City Airport and New York JFK, a route highly favored by business travelers, carrying on the iconic flight number of Concorde, Speedbird 001.
When you add other carriers operating the same route, such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, and Norse, there are nearly 35 flights per day connecting the British capital to New York.
Today, I'll be flying to New York from London with American Airlines, a partner of British Airways. In this Flight review, we will explore how a transfer at London Heathrow Airport works between a European flight and a flight to the United States. I'll also introduce you to the services provided by American Airlines on this Boeing 777-300ER flight and share my experience arriving late at an airport the size of New York's John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
So, let's not waste any more time, and I'll see you at Gate A10 of Terminal 5 in London.
London Heathrow Airport
I've just arrived on flight BA753 from Basel to London. From now on, I have a 4-hour layover until my second flight of the day, AA107, to New York JFK.
As I mentioned in my previous review, the signage for connecting passengers is obvious. After disembarking from the plane, I follow the signs that read "Flight Connection / All terminals." These signs direct passengers to a large "connection area" where several gates await them.
Each gate corresponds to a bus connection to a terminal. I'll take this opportunity to introduce you to London Heathrow Airport.
London Heathrow Airport is the busiest airport in Europe and the seventh busiest in the world. It serves as the primary hub for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic and consists of four terminals.
- Terminal 1, which is no longer in existence today, was Heathrow's first terminal. It served all airlines until the opening of the current Terminal 3 in 1961.
- Terminal 2 is occupied by Star Alliance member airlines, serving both European and intercontinental destinations. The terminal is located to the east of the airport and was inaugurated in 2014, making it the most modern terminal at Heathrow Airport.
- Terminal 3 is primarily occupied by Oneworld member airlines (with the exception of Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Royal Air Maroc, which use Terminal 4). It also serves as the terminal for Virgin Atlantic, Aeroméxico, Delta Air Lines, MEA (members of SkyTeam), and Emirates. It is located in the center of the airport and has been in operation since 1961, making it the oldest terminal still in service at the airport.
- Terminal 4 is mainly occupied by SkyTeam member airlines and non-aligned carriers. Additionally, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Royal Air Maroc (Oneworld members) use this terminal.
- Terminal 5 is exclusively used by British Airways.
Interestingly, all the terminals, both current and past, have been inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II.
For my part today, I am heading to Terminal 3. After a 2-minute wait at the bus station, I boarded the connecting bus. The purple color of the bus matches the airport's color scheme and is relatively clean and comfortable.
During the journey, I enjoyed the view of the tarmac, including the aircraft that brought me here. We make our first stop at Concourse B of Terminal 5 and then continue on to Terminal 3.
In the tunnels, the blue lights on the bus create a pleasant atmosphere. We arrive at Terminal 3, and at first glance, it appears modern and clean. Being surrounded by numerous buildings, the sunlight does not reach this initial part of the terminal.
The second step in this connection is passing through security. To my surprise, there is no waiting in line, and the security area is also very modern.
Duty-Free and Gates
Once through security, it's time to make my way to the boarding gate. We arrive at one of the largest duty-free areas I have ever seen. First, I pass through a well-stocked smaller duty-free area. Then, I enter a large waiting hall, surrounded by multiple restaurants, bookstores, and various souvenir shops.
After passing through the duty-free section, it's time to head to the boarding gate: Gate 27. Unlike the modern beginning of my exploration of Terminal 3, where everything was up-to-date, the second part of the terminal was old, dark, and somewhat confined. If you're claustrophobic, London Heathrow Terminal 3 might not be the ideal choice for you.
The terminal has more of a hospital feel than an open and welcoming airport atmosphere. Despite being renovated in 2007 for the first time, the terminal still feels stuck in the 1980s. Only the latest equipment, like the screens, brings a touch of modernity.
The long corridors with very small high windows are very dimly lit. Only the gates at the end of the terminal are brighter than the rest.
As I make my way there, I'll show you some photos of other parts of the terminal.
I arrive at the gate. Like many gates here in Terminal 3, it's more of a boarding area. We don't have to wait too long. The line is quite long, but it moves quickly. I then enter a boarding area that looks more like a warehouse or industrial building. It's very dimly lit, windowless, and cold. The doors look like freight elevator doors.
After about fifteen minutes of waiting in this collective confinement, we finally board. We pass through a narrow corridor and then into the glassless jetway. We then arrive in front of the aircraft door.
The flight attendant who greets us is leaning against the galley with a coffee in hand, yelling at us. I believe that even for passengers traveling in Economy Class, a minimum level of respect is expected. I find this behavior completely disrespectful towards passengers.
So, I began my experience with American Airlines with a very negative impression.
Cabin and seat
Upon entering the cabin, I discovered the Business Class, configured in a 1-2-1 layout. The seats look comfortable, and the cabin is well-lit.
I move towards the back of the cabin. I pass through the Premium Economy Class, configured in a 2-3-2 layout, which is very dark due to the seats, but the seats themselves still appear comfortable.
I then arrive in the Economy Class, configured in a 3-4-3 layout. I am seated in seat 25B. On the seat, I found a blanket and a cushion (not very comfortable). The cabin is quite old, and many of the amenities show their age, such as the screen or the tray table.
As for the tray table, it can be opened partially or fully and can be adjusted forward.
On the seat, I find the entertainment screen, a USB port, and a headphone jack. Additionally, each seat is equipped with a universal power outlet.
The seat itself is not the most comfortable on the market but remains decent. The headrest can be adjusted up and down and sideways.
The legroom is adequate for me as I am not very tall (1.65 meters), but it may be narrower for taller passengers...
From the seat next to me, occupied by my sister, which allows me to take some photos, I have a great view of the rear of the wing.
Once the boarding process is completed, the safety instructions begin as we push back from the gate.
Push-back and taxi
We push back facing northwest for takeoff on runway 27L. As we taxi toward the runway, it's quite busy in the late afternoon.
Ahead of us, there's a Croatia Airlines A319 heading for Split. During the taxi, we catch a glimpse of the British Airways Concorde on display at the airport, near the beginning of runway 27L.
At 5:36 PM, we align ourselves with runway 27L and take off. The wind, as persistent as it was when we arrived in London, causes some movement in the cabin.
During our climb, we pass through the typically gray English sky. About ten minutes after takeoff, we finally break through the cloud cover. The sky always looks stunning above the clouds.
A small note to mention: there were no headphones at my seat during boarding, and no one distributed them during or after boarding. It wasn't until nearly 45 minutes after departure, after asking a flight attendant and waiting for them to search for headphones, that I finally had the means to listen to a movie while eating.
So, 30 minutes after takeoff, the in-flight service begins.
The service includes a choice of cold, hot, and alcoholic beverages, along with a meal tray.
The meal tray options are basic: pasta or chicken. For this flight, I chose the pasta with tomato sauce.
The meal tray is then served, consisting of the main course, a small salad with dressing, a roll with butter, and cheese, a small biscuit, a small dessert cake, and a water bottle.
Regarding beverages, I opted for apple juice.
The meal was decent, although I wouldn't have minded larger portions.
Shortly after the meal, a video informs us of the availability of Wi-Fi on board. I will take this moment to introduce you to American Airlines' offerings for its long-haul flights.
When you connect to the in-flight Wi-Fi, a page opens, presenting the two available options:
- A 2-hour pass for $29
- A pass that covers the entire flight for $35
Both passes allow complete internet surfing. However, I find both passes quite expensive. In addition, it would be interesting for passengers if a free messaging pass were offered and the prices were lowered.
When compared to other American carriers like Delta Air Lines, which offers complete in-flight Wi-Fi, or European airlines like Air France, which offers a free messaging pass, American Airlines remains relatively expensive compared to its competitors.
I find it quite unfortunate in this day and age to have to pay astronomical sums to stay connected. It's a service that, for me, is essential in 2023.
So, after this meal, we begin the long journey across the North Atlantic. We exit British airspace via the northwest of Ireland.
Once the cruising altitude was established, the crew asked us to close our window shades, stating, "to not disturb other passengers." From a time zone perspective, I find this somewhat contradictory. It's precisely when heading towards the United States that one should avoid sleeping if they want to stay in sync with the local time. But well, it's not a big deal.
I remember that when I opened the window to take a photo, some passengers expressed their dissatisfaction...
Let's take advantage of the overnight cruise to discuss the in-flight entertainment.
As mentioned in the seat presentation, each seat is equipped with a screen and a remote control. It's quite rare to see a remote control in Economy Class these days. It's true that the cabin is relatively old. It's almost 10 years old.
First and foremost, the interface is available in many languages, which is a good point.
We have access to a wide selection of movies and TV series. There are approximately 320 movies, 312 TV series, and nearly 250 music titles available. In short, there's no shortage of entertainment during this flight.
In addition to that, there's an interactive map with various views (including a cockpit view, for example). Unfortunately, there are no onboard cameras on American's 777s.
A neat feature is that you can communicate with other passengers on the plane through the screen. You simply enter the seat number of the person you want to communicate with, and they must accept an invitation. It's a very nice feature!
Furthermore, you can check the gate information for your potential connecting flights at the arrival airport via the screen. Maps of several other airports are also provided, allowing you to save time during your connections.
Regarding the screen itself, I must say its age is starting to show. It's quite slow, and it occasionally glitches. Fortunately, the remote control is there to save our nerves.
In summary, it's a good and well-stocked entertainment system, but it could use a refresh.
About an hour after the meal, we're served a mid-flight snack. It's a small pot of vanilla ice cream. It was delicious! I find it very thoughtful for airlines to offer passengers a sweet snack during the flight (especially for passengers like me who have a sweet tooth...).
It's time to get some rest. We still have just under 4 hours of flight ahead of us, so a short movie is in order... But before the movie, a visit to the restroom is necessary.
The lavatories are somewhat cramped but remain very clean.
Now, we are flying over Canadian territory. At this point, the entire cabin is experiencing significant turbulence. Some passengers, or should I say some stomachs, didn't appreciate it much.
Shortly after, a small snack and a beverage were served. Personally, I didn't particularly enjoy the chicken wrap. It must be admitted that cold chicken, tomato sauce, and peppers are not the best combination. But well, we don't travel on an American airline for nothing...
We continue our flight toward the promised land.
Towards the end of this leg, we enter U.S. airspace over the state of Maine. After flying over Portland, we pass over the state of New Hampshire before entering the airspace of Boston, Massachusetts.
It's above Providence that we begin our descent toward our final destination, New York JFK Airport.
During our approach, we make several turns to align with the runway. There are a few light bumps during the descent, but nothing too serious.
We are now aligned with runway 22L.
During the final approach, we fly over the neighborhoods surrounding the airport, located on Long Island.
After 6 hours and 20 minutes of flight, our 777 touches down on American soil.
The sun has just set, and we can see the shadows of the New York City skyline in the distance.
We now begin our taxi to Terminal 8. Terminal 8 is used by American Airlines and most of its Oneworld partner airlines, including Iberia, British Airways, Qantas, and Qatar Airways. I will provide more details about the terminal layout in my next review for the return flight.
We arrive at our arrival gate, Gate 8. With the slides disarmed, deboarding can begin.
The premium classes naturally deboard first, followed by the Economy Class.
We exit the aircraft through the second door on the left and cross the jetway to reach the terminal.
New York JFK Airport
Upon entering the building, I take one last look at my plane and proceed to join the U.S. Customs.
After descending a few flights of stairs, I arrive at the customs booths, which are very busy tonight. Many international flights have landed, and the queue is getting longer and longer!
After spending nearly an hour in line, the customs officer started bombarding me with basic questions from the U.S. Customs passage: "Where are you coming from? How much money do you have on you? Where are you staying? When are you leaving? Who is traveling with you? Have you ever been to the United States?" In short, they want to know everything about you.
Once through customs, it's time to retrieve my luggage. When I arrived at the baggage claim, I only had to wait for about 5 minutes to see my bags arrive. It may seem short, but don't forget that I spent nearly an hour in the customs line. It makes you wonder if you would have waited an hour for your bags if there hadn't been a line at the border posts.
So here I am, on U.S. soil, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
After flying on British Airways and its partner American Airlines, and spending a few hours at London Heathrow Airport, it's time for me to conclude this Flight review and say goodbye until the review of my return flight to Basel, via London.
In the meantime, safe travels to all of you!
London Heathrow Airport
Initially, the largest London airport was superb. The terminal I arrived at, Terminal 5, is very spacious, bright, and modern.
The connection between the different terminals is well-established and efficient. The first part of Terminal 3 (security and duty-free) was also pleasant. The facilities were modern and clean, although the lighting could use some improvement.
But once you get past the Duty-Free, Terminal 3 feels like a prison. It feels more like navigating through a Soviet hospital than an airport. The departure gates, much like the terminal, are dark, cold, and not very welcoming. It doesn't make you want to travel from this terminal again!
To begin with, I must emphasize the complete lack of professionalism from the crew on this flight. From the flight attendant welcoming passengers who were slouched on the door with a coffee in hand to the headphones that had to wait nearly an hour into the flight to be distributed upon request, the memory I had of my previous experience with American Airlines was no longer relevant.
Regarding the cabin, I find it aging. It's true that it has quite a few years on the clock, but perhaps this is a sign that a retrofit is needed.
The in-flight entertainment is diverse, offering a substantial selection. The only downside is the high price of in-flight Wi-Fi, which, in my opinion, is quite expensive.
To conclude, the service on board was good but not extraordinary. Perhaps a bit more quantity would have been appreciated.
New York JFK Airport
Despite the cleanliness and modernity of the terminal, the wait at customs was quite long and added a bitter note to the end of this journey.
On a positive note, the wait for baggage was brief.
Regarding the airport's connection to the city of New York, the numerous taxis, buses, subways, and Uber/Lyft options are greatly appreciated.