33lspotter
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Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Wed Apr 19, 2017 4:34 pm

After an incredible trip to England in Fall 2014, I was extremely eager to go back. Since that trip doubled as my first time – first two times, actually – flying on a Boeing 747, and I was so in awe, it went by in a blur. Thus, I didn’t really get to “take in” the experience. As such, I wanted to go back, fly on a 747 at least one way, and – this time – really get to enjoy it.

As it was, I booked a trip back in December on British Airways, flying over on an Airbus A380 and flying back on a 747. With a base fare of $504.89 and seat selection fees of $72 in order to ensure that I got window seats both ways, I ended up paying $576.89, a very good deal for a British Airways transatlantic round trip.

April 9, 2017

The day of the flight, I checked flightradar24 to see what aircraft I’d be flying over on. It turned out to be G-XLEB, nicknamed “LE Baron” by BA A380 Captain Dave Wallsworth, a pilot who I encourage you to follow on Twitter. He has unofficial nicknames for each A380 in the fleet – G-XLED is LED Zep, G-XLEG is X-tra LEGgy, G-XLEH is LE Hulk – and is just generally a friendly and affable guy who provides personable responses to the majority of passenger tweets.

While I should have been at the airport a full three hours before my international departure, I was busy sorting out a minor snafu with my hotel room. After being on hold for a certain amount of time, I hung up, took a shower, and summoned an Uber to the airport. We got stuck in some traffic, but I still made it there with around an hour and 45 minutes before departure. Thankfully, clearing security didn’t take long, so I arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare.

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Shortly after the premium cabins boarded, economy started boarding. As I was sitting on the upper deck, I used the upper deck jetway, for which there was a sign.

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Immediately upon finding my seat in 82K, which is on the right side of the aircraft, I was struck by how spacious the upper deck window seats were. Not only was the configuration 2-4-2 rather than 3-4-3 on the lower deck, but there was enough room for storage bins next to the window, as well as the overhead bins.

After much delay, first pushing back from the gate and then sitting on both the taxiway and then Runway 15R, we lifted off. We started out on the LBSTA4 departure, although there wasn’t much to see from my vantage point on the right side of the aircraft.

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On the Way Down

We flew through the darkness for the majority of the flight. With about an hour until we were slated to arrive at Heathrow, I saw the first rays of light emerging. Soon enough, we started our descent to the Ockham holding stack.

Shortly after 7:00 a.m., we began our descent towards Heathrow, approaching over the city of London. I managed to see Big Ben, the London Eye, and several other very cool landmarks.

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Initially unsure as to which runway of 27R and 27L we were landing on, I realized just a second before touchdown that it was 27L. At that point, the spoilers came up and we slowed, pulling off the runway to taxi to the terminal.

April 17, 2017

While traveling throughout Europe, I took a couple of easyJet trips, one from London Southend to Amsterdam Schiphol and back, and another from London Gatwick to Paris Charles De Gaulle and back. Both were relatively uneventful as far as flying goes, and relatively short as well.

The morning of my return flight to Boston, we had arrived back in London from Paris. Having woken up at 4:45 a.m. in Paris, I managed to get a couple hours of sleep when we returned to London.

A Familiar Airframe

Around noon, I checked to ensure that the flight was still being operated by a 747. Sure enough, it was, and sure enough it was G-BYGD, the first 747 that I ever flew on back in November 2014. I became excited at the prospect of flying again on what I consider to be my favorite aircraft – mostly for sentimental reasons – and therefore making my 747 odyssey come full-circle.

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I arrived at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at around 2:00 p.m. for a 4:45 p.m. flight. Security was relatively straightforward, and I managed to get to the B gates with plenty of time to spare.

After taking a couple of pictures, I went off to find some food. I had to walk back to the A gates to find a restaurant, but managed to get a grilled chicken sandwich in little time.

When I arrived back at the gate, boarding was just about to start. I waited around the gate until economy boarding was called, as I wanted to ensure that there was enough room in the overhead for my large carry-on.

I made my way back to seat 49A to find new, retrofitted economy cabin seats and an empty overhead bin. The seats appeared to be the same as those on the A380, a massive upgrade over the old 747 seats from 2014. Even if the 747 is a bit tighter than the A380 in terms of the space allowed for the 3-4-3 configuration, this was an evident improvement in both aesthetics and comfort. The only criticism that I had was that the overhead lights still appeared to be dusty and aged, but that was the only thing I found fault with.

The cabin door closed, and the seat next to me (49B) was still empty. Needless to say, both the passenger in 49C and I were very happy to have some extra space.

Soon enough, the captain introduced himself over the P.A. system. During this trip, both the A380 and 747 captains were very friendly when making announcements, which hasn’t always been my experience when traveling on American carriers. In fact, I’ve had a number of experiences where the pilot hasn’t given an announcement until we’ve taken off. And while I understand that the pre-flight checklist requires the majority of the pilot’s attention, it is nice for the passengers to hear from him or her.

Time for Takeoff

After a short taxi and queue (by Heathrow standards) of around 15 minutes, we lined up on Runway 27R. I got out my phone in an attempt to film the takeoff, but the camera was having some issues focusing, so my video turned out to be a bit blurry which I wasn’t happy with. Nevertheless, I thought to myself that the most important thing was to enjoy the experience, regardless of how the video turned out, so I looked back at the runway and saw the ground whizzing by as we gained speed.

Soon after the plane pitched back, I heard the distinct “bang” of the plane’s undercarriage extending, signaling that we had left the ground. I was a little disappointed to not have gotten a better video of the takeoff, but – unlike the previous two 747 takeoffs, where I was very much in awe – I was very much aware that we had rotated when I heard the unique thud, which I was happy that I hadn’t missed.

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Cruising

Once we were at our cruise altitude of 37,000 feet, I started to see the two streams of contrails coming out of the number 1 and number 2 engines. A somewhat routine sight for wide body flights, but an interesting one nonetheless.

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I passed the time with a combination of Tetris, wine, and Family Guy. Before I knew it, we were starting our descent into Boston. The captain had mentioned that there was a westerly breeze, so I anticipated that we’d be landing on either Runway 27 or 33L.

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Letting Go of the Lift

As we began our downwind leg, it was evident that we’d be landing on 33L. I had half-expected this, since it’s significantly longer than 27, but would’ve been curious to see how the pilots would’ve approached landing on a short runway.

We performed a pretty aggressive turn onto our final approach. Soon enough, the flaps started coming down, and the distinct “bump” of the landing gear coming out soon followed.

As we crossed the threshold, I knew that touchdown was imminent. A few seconds later, we thudded onto the runway, and the spoilers came up. Since I was at the back of the plane, I could see the smoke come up from the main landing gear tires. The landing was a pretty hard one, and I got the sense that the rudder was being used, so I’m guessing that there was at least a small crosswind. Regardless, we were welcomed to Boston, and we taxied to the gate without incident.

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I arrived home just before 9:00 p.m. While I definitely enjoyed the trip, I was very thankful to be back in my own place.

Afterthoughts

The last time I’d gone over, I was very much in awe with flying on the 747, so I didn’t get the chance to internalize it. This time, I was eager to “take in” the experience, and – although it did still feel like a somewhat surreal experience – I think I did that very well. And though my sample size of flights was much larger this time around than it was before, meaning that I have been on a significantly larger number of flights in 2017 versus 2014, I did realize that even a flight on a 747 still feels and plays out like any other flight. Somewhat anticlimactic, but still memorable.

Much has been made of British Airways’ elimination of complimentary refreshments on short-haul flights, and the perceived move away from high-quality service and towards being a “low-cost carrier.” And while I am a big fan of BA, I am not immune to being critical of it when the occasion calls. As such, I was eager to evaluate all aspects of the flight, from the meals to the crew. Despite this mindset, I have to say that I had two excellent experiences: the crew was professional and friendly, the food was hot and fresh, and the new seats and IFE on both the A380 and 747 were high-quality. Moreover, both captains made good efforts to engage with passengers.

All in all, I have to say that BA did very well once again, and I look forward to flying on a BA plane at some point in the future – although I think my next trip across the pond will be on Virgin Atlantic. Why? Well, even though I have a well-documented affinity for BA, I have always been curious to try Virgin. And though there are a number of sentimental reasons that will keep BA ahead of Virgin in my own esteem, I am genuinely excited at the prospect of trying a different British carrier.

Being a somewhat superstitious individual, I have this weird obsession with the number three. I have now flown on the 747 a total of three times. As such, I don’t think I’ll fly on it again, but I am never one to say never. Either way, I enjoyed great flights both on the way over and coming back, and it was no doubt a trip to remember.
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AndrewJM70
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Jun 27, 2016 1:08 pm

Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Thu Apr 20, 2017 4:41 pm

Great trip report!

LHR-BOS has been one of my favourite sectors over the years. It is a nice way to get to the States as it is a relatively short flight, so it is not uncomfortable, even in economy.

You mentioned landing on runway 27. This is quite a unique airport in this respect as I can't think of any other location off the top of my head where 747s have regularly landed on such a short runway.

I had personal experience of it on a NW LGW-BOS flight in 1993. It was similar to one or two videos which are on You Tube - get over the threshold and slam-dunk! No time for finesse or long flares to achieve a smooth landing. We touched down 700ft past the threshold and slowed easily by the end. The only slightly disconcerting thing was seeing a 727 rapidly approaching us from the side having landed on one of the runway 22s on a LAHSO maneouver! Fortunately he stopped before hitting us, but only just!

The 747 is a surprisingly good stopper, and would probably not be at MLW on such a short flight so as long as touchdown is achieved in the first 2000ft or so there is no issue.
 
33lspotter
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Posts: 257
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2014 2:37 pm

Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Fri Apr 21, 2017 2:11 am

AndrewJM70 wrote:
Great trip report!

LHR-BOS has been one of my favourite sectors over the years. It is a nice way to get to the States as it is a relatively short flight, so it is not uncomfortable, even in economy.

You mentioned landing on runway 27. This is quite a unique airport in this respect as I can't think of any other location off the top of my head where 747s have regularly landed on such a short runway.

I had personal experience of it on a NW LGW-BOS flight in 1993. It was similar to one or two videos which are on You Tube - get over the threshold and slam-dunk! No time for finesse or long flares to achieve a smooth landing. We touched down 700ft past the threshold and slowed easily by the end. The only slightly disconcerting thing was seeing a 727 rapidly approaching us from the side having landed on one of the runway 22s on a LAHSO maneouver! Fortunately he stopped before hitting us, but only just!

The 747 is a surprisingly good stopper, and would probably not be at MLW on such a short flight so as long as touchdown is achieved in the first 2000ft or so there is no issue.


Thanks!

You're right, it is short enough (my return flight was 6h 59m) that it's almost comparable to flying to the West Coast from here. With IFE and meals, it passes by pretty quickly.

Living in MA, I have seen a decent number of 747s land on the 7000' Runway 27, which is fun to watch. Growing up in ME as a kid, my local airport PWM was said to have a "short" runway at 7200', and IIRC the President always flew in the AF1 757 rather than the 747 when he visited, although I later learned that that was mostly due to the taxiway/ramp space rather than the runway length.

Regarding the use of 9/27 at BOS, perhaps even more crazy is when 747s take off of 9, which happens surprisingly often. In fact, looking at the FlightAware track, it appears that G-BYGD did so on its return flight to LHR that night. Obviously given the short distance from BOS to LHR it is far from MTOW, but it still surprises me that a 747 with a fairly decent load (even if it doesn't necessitate comparatively much fuel) can safely become airborne from a 7000' runway.
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lychemsa
Posts: 1692
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Fri Apr 21, 2017 4:55 pm

Because BA cut the snack from London to New York I won't fly them. Air France did the same 30 years ago but restarted it after they received complaints. Also the legroom at 31" is another reason. Only a few airlines have kept the legroom at 32."
 
33lspotter
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Fri Apr 21, 2017 10:50 pm

lychemsa wrote:
Because BA cut the snack from London to New York I won't fly them. Air France did the same 30 years ago but restarted it after they received complaints. Also the legroom at 31" is another reason. Only a few airlines have kept the legroom at 32."


Those things have never bothered me in particular. However, I can understand why others might not feel the same.
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AndrewJM70
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Thu Apr 27, 2017 10:02 am

33lspotter wrote:
Regarding the use of 9/27 at BOS, perhaps even more crazy is when 747s take off of 9, which happens surprisingly often. In fact, looking at the FlightAware track, it appears that G-BYGD did so on its return flight to LHR that night. Obviously given the short distance from BOS to LHR it is far from MTOW, but it still surprises me that a 747 with a fairly decent load (even if it doesn't necessitate comparatively much fuel) can safely become airborne from a 7000' runway.


It would be around 66% of it's max take-off weight (BA 747s have a very low capacity due to a large F/C config) and only 6 hours of fuel plus reserves going East, plus I don't think there are any obstacles past the 27 threshold so it's TODA is in theory unlimited, meaning it only has to clear the end by 35ft. I would expect a take-off run of around 4000-5000ft which means that 7000ft is ample. If you want an accurate idea, I can ask a very good friend of mine who is a 747 captain with BA.
 
33lspotter
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Thu Apr 27, 2017 4:15 pm

AndrewJM70 wrote:
It would be around 66% of it's max take-off weight (BA 747s have a very low capacity due to a large F/C config) and only 6 hours of fuel plus reserves going East, plus I don't think there are any obstacles past the 27 threshold so it's TODA is in theory unlimited, meaning it only has to clear the end by 35ft. I would expect a take-off run of around 4000-5000ft which means that 7000ft is ample. If you want an accurate idea, I can ask a very good friend of mine who is a 747 captain with BA.


I would be interested in finding out more, if possible. I'll DM you my email address. Thanks!
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LH423
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Fri May 05, 2017 10:51 am

Nice report! Always a fan of reports involving my hometown airport.

33lspotter wrote:
Regarding the use of 9/27 at BOS, perhaps even more crazy is when 747s take off of 9, which happens surprisingly often. In fact, looking at the FlightAware track, it appears that G-BYGD did so on its return flight to LHR that night. Obviously given the short distance from BOS to LHR it is far from MTOW, but it still surprises me that a 747 with a fairly decent load (even if it doesn't necessitate comparatively much fuel) can safely become airborne from a 7000' runway.


Even better is when a 747 takes off from 27. They do it with relative ease though I think probably with a slightly more shallow incline. I remember being in the Back Bay within the 6-8 weeks following 9/11. A BA 744 suddenly appears from behind a building and was low enough, close enough and loud enough that it gave a few people around me a momentary gasp as the split second viewing made it seem much closer to the Prudential tower than it was. Though it is moments like that that give a good visual as to why Boston has a relatively squat skyline vis-à-vis its global counterparts.

The Seaport District has a height limit of somewhere around 250-300 ft (75-90 m). There are very few places in central Boston that the FAA will allow structures over 800 feet (243 m). For reference, 200 Clarendon (aka the Hancock Tower) is 790 ft. If memory serves, the only places where a supertall could be built (as defined as a skyscraper 300 m or taller) are in Cambridge, or in places that either aren't appropriate (like Beacon and Mass Av) or where NIMBYs would literally lose their shit about possible shadows. And it'll be a cold day in Hell before a building over a thousand feet tall gets built on the north bank of the Charles. Even the seemingly omnipotent former mayor, Tom Menino's dream of leaving a legacy of Boston's first starchitect supertall in the heart of the Financial District were squelched by the FAA saying no building over 800 feet could be built there. The current proposal, should it be built, is for 775 ft (236 m). While no one would say that Logan's location is a downside, it would be interesting to see if Boston's skyline would be much different if the airport's proximity didn't add an additional layer of headaches and dictate hard and fast height limits on significant areas of the city. It probably wouldn't be too different, given the city's relative dearth of high-rise construction during the late-80s and 90s but maybe some projects that were shelved due to height restrictions making the projects unfeasible may have proceeded.

LH423
« On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux » Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
 
33lspotter
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Fri May 05, 2017 4:47 pm

LH423 wrote:
Nice report! Always a fan of reports involving my hometown airport.
Even better is when a 747 takes off from 27. They do it with relative ease though I think probably with a slightly more shallow incline. I remember being in the Back Bay within the 6-8 weeks following 9/11. A BA 744 suddenly appears from behind a building and was low enough, close enough and loud enough that it gave a few people around me a momentary gasp as the split second viewing made it seem much closer to the Prudential tower than it was. Though it is moments like that that give a good visual as to why Boston has a relatively squat skyline vis-à-vis its global counterparts.

The Seaport District has a height limit of somewhere around 250-300 ft (75-90 m). There are very few places in central Boston that the FAA will allow structures over 800 feet (243 m). For reference, 200 Clarendon (aka the Hancock Tower) is 790 ft. If memory serves, the only places where a supertall could be built (as defined as a skyscraper 300 m or taller) are in Cambridge, or in places that either aren't appropriate (like Beacon and Mass Av) or where NIMBYs would literally lose their shit about possible shadows. And it'll be a cold day in Hell before a building over a thousand feet tall gets built on the north bank of the Charles. Even the seemingly omnipotent former mayor, Tom Menino's dream of leaving a legacy of Boston's first starchitect supertall in the heart of the Financial District were squelched by the FAA saying no building over 800 feet could be built there. The current proposal, should it be built, is for 775 ft (236 m). While no one would say that Logan's location is a downside, it would be interesting to see if Boston's skyline would be much different if the airport's proximity didn't add an additional layer of headaches and dictate hard and fast height limits on significant areas of the city. It probably wouldn't be too different, given the city's relative dearth of high-rise construction during the late-80s and 90s but maybe some projects that were shelved due to height restrictions making the projects unfeasible may have proceeded.

LH423


Thanks!

Yeah, I have seen 747 departures from 27 a number of times. It is pretty wild to see them buzzing the skyline.

Having lived in Somerville, I used to see BA 747s heading on the CELTK departure from 33L. Ironically, it was the LBSTA departures from 27 that would swing them back over Somerville and enabled me to see them, rather than the CELTK departures from 27 which swung down towards Milton and thus were out of my view.
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AndrewJM70
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Sat May 13, 2017 9:40 am

From the horses mouth (a BA 747 captain) MTOW from 09 on a 60F day is 320t. Approx 70t fuel meaning that there is around 65t availavle for payload. This would allow the aircraft to go with a full pax load and maybe 15 LD3s (out of 30).
 
33lspotter
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Re: Familiar Types, New Experiences: BOS-LHR and LHR-BOS on British Airways' A380 and 747

Fri Jun 23, 2017 10:32 pm

AndrewJM70 wrote:
From the horses mouth (a BA 747 captain) MTOW from 09 on a 60F day is 320t. Approx 70t fuel meaning that there is around 65t availavle for payload. This would allow the aircraft to go with a full pax load and maybe 15 LD3s (out of 30).


A bit late here, but that is fascinating that they can do full pax. Of course, it does make some sense, considering BA's 747s are not as densely configured as other carriers, but a 7,000' runway is still (comparatively speaking) short.
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