How to enjoy long-haul standards on short-haul British Airways flights

Plane Talk: On British Airways links to Moscow and Madrid, it pays to pay attention to the plane


Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 05 August 2017 05:58 BST
You could get lucky with a Boeing 777
You could get lucky with a Boeing 777 (iStock)

Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, only one airline offered a cheap (-ish) way to fly from Heathrow to Paris. Not Air France, British Airways or British Midland; it was Aerolineas Argentinas.

The airline flew to Buenos Aires via Paris and Madrid, which must have been a maddeningly slow trip for anyone heading for the Argentine capital. But at £55 one-way it was a bargain option to the French capital. And, as a bonus, you could sit back in a relatively luxurious seat on the Boeing 747 for a flight of less than an hour, and sip a glass of Malbec.

In the pre-Eurostar, pre-low-cost airlines era there was plenty of weird stuff going on. The Argentinian airline stepped in when Gulf Air abandoned its Heathrow-Paris route, using a Tristar. And for a time BA flew a Jumbo each day between Gatwick and Manchester.

I was reminded of the Jumbo option to Paris when I flew from Moscow to Heathrow on British Airways. At a “block time” (gate-to-gate) of just short of four hours, it is at the upper end of short-haul flights. Two of BA’s three daily flights are on narrow-bodied Airbus jets, but I struck lucky with a Boeing 777.

British Airways still has nine-abreast seats on its 777s, rather than the 10 across as configured by many other airlines (and, soon, BA’s Gatwick operation), complete with seatback screens.

As a bonus, “Buy on board,” the standard short-haul economy arrangement on BA, is not used on the Moscow route, so everyone gets a reasonably tasty meal at no extra charge.

In economy the benefits of travelling short-haul on a long-haul flight are marginal; in business class the rewards can be remarkable.

The best example is on another British Airways route, from Heathrow to Madrid. The 800 miles between London and the Spanish capital are linked by 13 daily BA-numbered flights. But they use five different aircraft types. Eleven of them are siblings in the Airbus narrow-bodied fleet: the A319, A320 and A321. One is a high-density Boeing 767, a wide-bodied plane configured for European (and domestic) routes. But the last is a cut above. It is a long-haul 777. Forget the “densified” Airbuses, where the only extra comfort in business class compared with economy is an empty middle seat. Instead, lie back and think of champagne on one of the business class flat beds.

Even economy passengers may benefit, with the prospect of a “proper” upgrade. Anyone bumped up a class on an Airbus will barely notice much difference in comfort. But BA’s 777 has a World Traveller Plus cabin, which offers a lot more legroom and room to breathe. This version of premium economy is not actively sold on the Heathrow-Madrid, which means it is prime territory for “operational upgrades” — where the airline moves people up a class not because it particularly likes them, but because basic economy is overbooked.

Paying a more-than-basic fare and belonging to BA’s Executive Club can make you more likeable, from the airline’s perspective, and help boost the chance that, as an economy passenger, you will be selected enjoy a more comfortable trip than the business-class travellers on the previous BA departure.

Boeing 777s are sometimes deployed by BA to sweep up hundreds of passengers when strikes or other issues have disrupted flying, and were also for a time used between Heathrow and Paris in order to give crews plenty of experience. One summer Air France did the same with its Airbus A380 "SuperJumbo".

After decades of planes getting bigger and comfier, though, the trend is now going in the opposite direction.

Boeing 737s are now standard equipment on shorter transatlantic routes, such as WestJet’s daily link from Gatwick to St John’s in Newfoundland, which continues to the Canadian capital, Ottawa. Norwegian is having a successful summer using the latest version of the 50-year-old twin-jet between Edinburgh and the US. And the long-range version of the Airbus A321 will stretch from London to Miami.

So make the most of the opportunities for short-haul journey/long-haul planes. They may soon go the way of that Aerolineas Argentinas Jumbo.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in