(photo credit: Courtesy)
How was your flight? This is probably the most frequently asked question upon returning from a trip.
In fact, what actually make a flight enjoyable? Is it the leg room, comfortable seats, the in-flight food and entertainment, cabin crew attitude, children friendliness, ease of check-in, convenient flight times, departing and arriving on schedule, airport facilities, or safety and security?
Departing from Ben-Gurion Airport, one already feels safe and secure as, no matter which airline you choose to fly, security is handled by the Israel Airports Authority.
Recently, I had the opportunity to fly BMI (British Midland Airways) to Heathrow and sample the A330 airbus recently introduced on the London /Tel Aviv Route.
At this stage I should reveal that I am a former cabin crew member, having flown for six years for a now defunct airline dubbed "the world's friendliest airline." Therefore, I make mental notes and comparisons the whole time: looking to see how passengers are treated, what features there are for women with babies and children, how meals are served, how long it takes to answer calls and requests, the cleanliness of bathrooms, etc.
Having to be at the airport only two hours before the flight was a very pleasant surprise, especially in the early hours of the morning. BMI has two daily flights to London Heathrow Terminal 1 departing Tel Aviv at 6:30 am and 7:20 pm. Return flights depart London at 11:15 am and 9:55 pm., all very convenient times for both the business and casual traveler.
Security went smoothly, as BMI have their own check-in desks with very short queues and helpful staff. After a bit of shopping, it was time to board.
No doubt about it, the wide-bodied A330 is a beautiful aircraft, not at all claustrophobic and those giant Rolls Royce engines below the wings are a comforting sight. The cabin is divided into four zones. Business class, Premium Economy and two economy zones.
Seating in the Premium Economy class is luxurious with 50 inches (127 cm.) of leg room, extremely comfortable seats which recline almost to full bed length, individual monitors with films, music, and games for every taste and age group and its own dedicated in-flight team.
And dedicated they are. After take off, menus are handed out and a choice of two dishes are listed. A wine list is also available, but being so early in the morning, I just read it over for curiosity sake.
Not bad, the BMI wines are selected by Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio winery, close to Perugia, and are aimed at captivating every palate.
Aircraft food is aircraft food no matter which airline you fly, some better than others but none to write home about. The food was good, piping hot and nicely packed.
The difference in Premium Economy is proper cutlery, china coffee cups and glasses - no plastic. I always decline coffee or tea on flights because served in plastic or melamine cups it just tastes awful. BMI must have realized this, and china cups are also on the economy trays.
The Business class zone is classy, with brown and beige leather seats which turn into fully flat beds with 82 inches (212 cm.) of legroom. The seating is staggered, enabling more privacy.
I had read that Business class boasts an onboard chef. My thoughts were that a senior flight attendant would now be called a chef and work the galley. But no, lo and behold, a chef in full regalia walked past me. I just had to speak to him and ask how he cooked on board. After all, he couldn't really produce a steak au poivre flambe at 20,000 feet.
The chefs are fully trained and have worked in various restaurants. They are, however, limited in what they can prepare. And after 9/11, no sharp kitchen knives are allowed, so it is a challenge.
The feature that stood out the most on this flight was the friendliness and helpfulness of the crew. Frequent PA announcements by the captain and cabin service manager emphasized that they were there to make out flight enjoyable and they meant it.
On the return flight, being a night flight, an announcement was made to fasten seat belts over our blankets in case of turbulence and so that cabin staff would not have to disturb sleeping passengers.
Also, on the return flight, a Hebrew speaking cabin staff member was on board and made all the announcements in Hebrew. There are currently five Hebrew speakers on staff and the plan is to eventually have one on every Tel Aviv flight.
BMI is the second largest airline at Heathrow airport and operates out of Terminal 1 with plenty of connecting international and domestic flights. Wear comfortable shoes though, as the walk from the plane to customs and immigration is very long.On the plus side, by the time you get to baggage claim, you don't have to wait long for your bags.
Terminal 1 is also within a short walking distance of the London underground and bus terminal with buses to most destinations in England.
Upon my return, when asked how my flight was, I could honestly say "great." And it was great from every point of view, but it was the in-flight service and the cabin staff's attitude that most impressed me. I think that BMI now deserves the title of "the world's friendliest airline."
The writer was a guest of BMI