Did you know that British Airways turns 100 this year? It’s true: On Aug. 25, 1919, Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T), the forerunner company of today’s British Airways, launched the world’s first daily international scheduled flight. This flight to Paris carried a single passenger and cargo that included newspapers, Devonshire cream, jam and—naturally—grouse.
It’s a volatile business, air travel, but also one on which the modern tourism industry is completely dependent. The demise of so many budget carriers in the past several months has proven that trends will come and go, but ultimately there’s nothing that says style like longevity. A recent short flight on British Airways from Athens to London Heathrow reminded me how this legacy carrier is miles above so many others. First, the A320neo was clean and almost minty fresh. Contrast this with a flight I took on TAP Air Portugal not too long ago that was, frankly, frightful: a tired old plane that could have used some air freshener (a fitting match, perhaps, for the awful Lisbon Airport—no wonder Madonna moved back to London!).
To be fair, the service I experienced aboard both TAP and JetBlue was fine. But it was better on British Airways. Even on my short flight, a few situations came up with some passengers that the BA flight attendants handled with gracious aplomb. The communication from the cockpit to the main cabin with regard to a weather delay was courteous and thorough. Little things like that remind you what it means to travel with a world class airline. There are other things, too, like the possibility of ordering on-board nibbles from Marks & Spencer, which has partnered with British Airways for the centenary celebrations. Some of those M&S offerings include an “afternoon tea” with a sultana scone, traditional clotted cream and strawberry preserves. I wasn’t able to fly Club Europe, but breakfast in the short-haul business class featured a main dish of scrambled free-range eggs, British back bacon and Cumberland sausage (or a free-range egg omelet with herbed tomatoes and black olives) paired with a selection of Twinings teas or Union coffee.
British Airways airport lounges exude more elegance than you might think possible for a busy international airport. I visited the Galleries First Lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and found an excellent breakfast buffet (waiter service was an option) and impressive selection of champagnes—not flashy, but definitely roomy and restful. I have it on good authority that The Concorde Rooms at Heathrow Terminal 5 and New York JFK are even more indulgent.
In May, Her Majesty The Queen visited British Airways’ headquarters at Waterside, Heathrow, as part of the airline’s centenary celebrations. Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said: “It was such a pleasure to show Her Majesty The Queen the artefacts and memorabilia we have kept and curated over the years, and to introduce her to our passionate teams from all across British Airways who’ve gone above and beyond for customers, to those who make British Airways the inclusive place it is to work, and those who help raise millions for young people in need.”
You know I’m a fan of airport hotels, not just because they are philosophically interesting but for those times when things like early departures, delayed flights or long layovers come up. If you’re looking for a good airport hotel near Heathrow, may I suggest the one that is actually inside the airport? That would be YOTELAIR London Heathrow. It’s located in the public landside area of Terminal 4, on the mezzanine level and only minutes away from the departure and arrival gates. I’ve stayed at YOTEL in New York many times and the Heathrow property shares the same crisp, white, compact, comfortable and futuristic aesthetic. YOTELAIR Istanbul and YOTELAIR Singapore Changi opened in April. Visit yotel.com.
In New York, the TWA Hotel has been hyped but for me the interest there is purely historical. A cool terminal built in 1962 should have stayed in 1962—in other words, made into a museum. The truth is, the hotel is poorly integrated into JFK as a whole and the whole retro aviation thing is so overdone that frankly it was over a long time ago. JFK (like LAX) remains an unwieldy and overstuffed national embarrassment. Spend even a few hours at YOTELAIR London Heathrow and you’ll see for yourself the kind of airport hotel that New York actually needed—and still does.