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Caribbean Log – Powered by British Airways – The first step, London, then the long transatlantic trip

British Airways: Gatwick airport

Last autumn, I was delighted to be invited in one of the most interesting press trips I took part of. I was invited by British Airways in a press trip together with other two Romanian journalist (a well-known style blogger and a journalist from the most prestigious business daily (the Romanian version of Financial Times), but the destination was really special – the Caribbean island of St. Lucia… Never been to that part of the Caribbean, so I accepted instantly… with a lot of pleasure J. And here comes my travelogue… or blog tripologue J.

Day 1. Star date: September 9, 2011: The British Airways Flight Bucharest – London

Henri Coanda Airport… A warm and sunny day, a splendid early autumn! I have already flown from the new airport extension several times, so I’m not expecting any surprises… Actually, my greatest surprise occurred that very morning, when I found out we were about to fly Business Class… So it is going to be a genuine 5-star experience with British Airways… I said “Wow!”… I already flew Business Class and Economy before, and I can tell you the difference is really big on transcontinental flights. Of course, the price difference is also big, but if you have the financial resources, then it’s really all worth it!

My first surprise: Otopeni Airport of Bucharest has a new business lounge… We quickly pass through it. It has the exact same food stuff and drinks you could find in the former lounges, but this time it all looks great… The view includes the runway and the parking area, all spacey and shining in the sun. An absolute wow! After the National Arena, the brand new stadium of Bucharest that I visited a few days ago, this is yet another place where you can say “You see? Our little Romania can do it, too!”

Another surprise in the lounge! We meet Leonard Miron, a well known showman from the National Television. Many Romanians do not know that he works as a British Airways flight attendant for a few years now, while his activity with the Romanian State Television is only for his spare time… I flew with him and it was a real pleasure to learn some of the secrets of his work, as a flight attendant. First of all, I learned the whole crew gathers for a meeting, one hour and a half prior to take-off. In London, if you are even as little as 2 minutes late, you are excluded from the flight crew for that day. The company always has other flight attendants in standby, just in case somebody does not show up for work. Each take-off involves a small exam in terms of flight security. If you fail to answer correctly one single question, you are out again and they call their backups. The crew are then assigned their jobs in the cabins (those serving passengers in Business and First Class need to have a special training), and they review all VIPs on board for that flight, be they sportsmen, artists, politicians etc.

Talking of VIPs, I was surprised to learn that the Queen of England also boards regular flights – Business Class. She always sits on the front row, with a few bodyguards behind her, but other than that, the rest of the people in the cabin are regular passengers. So if you happen to fly British Airways Business Class, just pay attention, because you might sit next to Charles, Kate or some other member of the British Royal Family. I also learned there is a special training regarding the royal protocol when the Queen is on board. First time they address the Queen, the flight attendants should use the formula “Your Majesty”, but afterwards simply resort to “Madam”. On the other hand, Charles prefers to be called by his first name, not “Your Royal Highness”.

However, don’t let yourself tempted into believing the Royal Family is the only one who gets the royal treatment with British Airways Business Class! The flight attendant has an iPad displaying full info on each and every passenger – their names, whether they flew British Airways before and if so when, were there any problems such as delays, have they ever filed a complaint etc. So you have barely got on board when you are greeted along the lines of “Mr. X, welcome on board! Once again, we feel we should apologize that last time when you flew from Hong Kong your flight was delayed, but we can assure you that today you will have a very pleasant flight”.

As I was used to fly Economy or low-cost, I had already fed myself rather well before going to the airport, so I was not able to eat too much of what they gave me on board. I had to choose from two dishes… Anyway, the flight itself did not take very long – about three hours from Bucharest to London.

Like I said before, the destination of this “press trip” is the state-island of St. Lucia, in the Caribbean. However, our connections did not match, so we had to spend one night in London. Moreover, Bucharest flights arrive on Heathrow, while most of the flights with exotic vacation destinations (such as the Caribbean, Florida or the Maldives) operate from Gatwick Airport. Passengers who decide to fly BA to the Caribbean need to spend one night in London. For Economy Class, BA provides free transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick, plus special-price accommodations (according to BA representatives, this is about EUR 40 per night), while passengers in Business Class obviously get free transfer, but also free accommodation for one night in a hotel close to Gatwick Airport.

We stayed at Sofitel Gatwick… Yes, I know, as a guy it’s dangerous to sleep in a Sofitel Hotel, as you might get accused of raping a maid (see DSK’s case), but I managed to get away with no such troubles… On the other hand, I found out the hotel owner was also a former BA employee, who at first was helped by the airline company to build a hotel for flight crews, close to Heathrow… After that, he built another hotel – much bigger – next to Heathrow and now he also owns the Sofitel Hotel close to Gatwick. What can I say about the hotel? It’s just what you would expect from a business hotel like Sofitel – great room with a view to the inner atrium of the hotel, rich breakfast… It was a pity I could only spend so little time there….

Day 2. Star date: September 10, 2011:  London – St. Lucia, the Caribbean

I turn the TV on early in the morning… Last night, Egyptian protesters stormed off the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Romania scored 24-34 in the rugby match with Scotland (we were still leading about 10 minutes before the end of the game!), but also some weather surprises… Hurricane Katia, which rampaged the East Coast of America, including New York, a few days ago, is now heading for… Britain. Luckily, it will only hit the British coast in the evening, while we are scheduled for take-off at 10:10… On the other hand, in Santa Lucia, the tropical storm Maria is getting stronger, turning into a hurricane… So there are some doubts over our landing in that area. Moreover, when we get to the airport I notice the flight to Antigua (another island-state in the Caribbean, further to the north from St Lucia) was cancelled because of Maria… Maria, Maria, I like it loud! We shall see… I lived through another typhoon in Tokyo and landed in Hong Kong on the ‘tail’ of another one… So it’s worth living the experience of a Caribbean hurricane, too.

Before boarding, we firstly need to check-in… and we are introduced with the check-in style of the future. You don’t need to stand in line for check-in, as you take care of that completely on your own. The staff explains about the machines that provide you with your boarding pass, print your luggage label that you need to fix on your bag with your own hand (I learn this is the only machine of this kind in the world, as there are plenty of places across the world where you can already take care of your check-in either on the Internet, or at an airport machine). As soon as you have generated your boarding pass, you stick your label on your luggage and place it on the airport conveyor belt that would take it… to your destination.

Next step: a break in the BA business lounge at Gatwick (surprisingly enough, we have almost the same things as we had at Sofitel, for breakfast!) and the boarding… I flew Business Class before on transcontinental routes, so I know it’s a genuine pleasure to have your own chair that you can turn into a bed if you want to take a nap (or even get some real sleep). You have the menu that helps you pick whatever you want, your wines are selected by the wine expert of Financial Times, so everything is in the superlative… Also, the flight attendant already knows your name, your preferences and your wishes…. Mine are an enigma, as I flew BA last time in 2005 !

We take off just in time, with no incidents… And because we have the right connections amongst staff, we find out that the St. Lucia airport is closed, but the weather is changing, so we might still have the chance to land there… In the meantime, the airplane has left carrying much more fuel than it actually needs (anyway, a Boeing 777 ‘eats up’ several tons of kerosene per hour) and three flight captains who can replace each other, in case they get tired… Their backup airport is Caracas, in Venezuela, or maybe Barbados, in case it opens… We shall see what Maria has in store for us…

The special thing about British is the special care they have for their clients… Like I said, they try to get to know them as well as possible, taking one step forward in understanding their wishes and their previous experiences with British.

My final hours on the plane were spent together with Jack Sparrow and his “Pirates of the Caribbean” (a most appropriate film for our destination). Unfortunately, before flying over Barbados we did not run into Jack, but into Maria, the tropical storm that hid our ocean… So we could only see the island of St. Lucia when the airplane got close enough to the airport where we finally landed… We were in the Caribbean!

Once we landed, we got through customs with no incidents  (as far as I know, Romanians need no visa for the islands in the Caribbean – except perhaps Haiti and most certainly Cuba). So after that I was able to officially record my 83rd visited country. Welcome to St. Lucia!

The trip to our hotel was unusually long… The island is not too big, about 45 km x 25 km, but it’s full of mountains and the road crossing it was really long (the airport is in the south, while our hotel was in the north)… More than one hour later, we stopped in front of Smugglers Cove (fierce name there!) Surprise! This was an all-inclusive resort. So this is another debut for me, as it’s my first time in an all-inclusive resort… After the welcome punch and so me most appreciated cold towels, I finally got to my room. However, after eight hours of flying and the meager motivation provided by a cloudy sky, I didn’t actually feel the need to explore Smugglers Cove… I stayed tuned on the Caribbean Weather Channel, who was promising that Maria shall head for the British Virgin Islands tomorrow… So I do hope we’ll have bluer sky and greener sea tomorrow, before we get hit by the next tropical storm, now brewing somewhere in between Africa and South America…


British Airways: Business lounge

The new business lounge in Otopeni

British Airways: business class food

Business class food on the flight to London

British Airways: Gatwick

Landing on Heathrow

British Airways: Sofitel Gatwick Hotel

Sofitel Gatwick

British Airways: Sofitel Gatwick

Hotel Sofitel Gatiwck

The room in Sofitel Gatwick

Sofitel Gatwick: Sofitel breakfast

Breakfast

British Airways: Self check-in at Gatwick

Self check-in at Gatwick

British Airways: Antigua canceled

Antigua canceled… St. Lucia on time

British Airways: business lounge Gatwick

The business lounge in Gatwick

British airways: Business lounge Gatwick

Breakfast – Sofitel style

British Airways: Gatwick

Gatwick Airport

British Airways: Gatwick

British Airways: Boeing 777

An airplane for Santa Lucia – Boeing 777

British Airways: Business Class B777

Business class

British Airways: Business Class 777

Your own screen plus a real bed

British Airways: Business Class food

Appetizers included

British Airways: Business Class food

plus roast as the main dish

What wine would you like, Sir?

British Airways: self-service on plane

Plus a kitchenette – self-service

British Airways: St. Lucia airport

The airport in St. Lucia – clouded sky and heavy raindrops

One hour later, we were entering the lobby of the Smugglers Cove Hotel

Smugglers Cove

You see the first swimming pool right behind the reception lobby

Smugglers Cove

This is where I’m staying…

Smugglers Cove

A glance around the room

One single vital ingredient is still missing: the sun…

Maria, Maria, I like it loud! But not this time…

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    My name is Cezar (where the nickname "Imperator" comes from) and I have travelled to 105 countries around the world. In this blog, I would like to share with you stories, memories, travel tips & tricks and news to help you plan your journeys !

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