This post refers to the service provided before the takeover of bmi by IAG, and is left here purely for historical interest. Flights to Berlin are no longer available through bmi.
Reading the horror-toned reports of snow chaos at London's Heathrow airport, I wasn't all that confident I'd make it back before Christmas. As it nears time to leave, nothing on bmi's website or their Twitter stream seems to indicate my flight has been cancelled though, so I head off to Tegel hopefully.
It seems to be business as usual at the airport and the flight's still showing on the board, so before I go any further, I check myself in on one of Lufthansa's quick check in machines.
I'd like to be able to say that I headed off in search of Lufthansa's business class lounge next, but I want to drop off my suitcase first and, by the time the baggage drop off point has opened, it's time to go through to the gate anyway. The Lufthansa lounge at Tegel is before check in and security, rather than after like bmi's lounge in Heathrow - I think it being after makes a whole lot more sense (no need to guess at how long you'll have to queue for baggage drop and security while you relax with your coffee and cakes), but Tegel's terminal design doesn't allow for it. A shame they don't open the baggage drop earlier, though - something bmi seems to have well sorted out at Heathrow (though they also guarantee that business class passengers at Heathrow can turn up just 30 minutes before their flight leaves and still make their flight).
On the plus side, though, Tegel's design does mean a whole lot less wandering around - in the picture above, the taxi rank is on the right and the entrance to the gate is on the left (the exit, if you're arriving at Tegel, is in practically the same place) - that's it, about 10 seconds' walk!
On the other side of security, there's a nice view out onto the terminal ramp, where another airline's plane is being de-iced before departure. There's something very sci-fi about the way the nozzles scan backwards and forwards across the wing, with white clouds of deicing fluid filling the air.
It's not long before it's time to board our own flight. I'd expected that, with some of the day's flights having been cancelled because of runway closures at Heathrow, this flight might be packed. Far from it - it seems like most of the evening's travellers have decided to stay at home, and it turns out I'm the only person sat in business class.
The de-icing machine comes over and gives our plane a good spray, then we push back and head off down the taxiway...and stop. The captain's voice comes over the PA system. "Ladies and gentlemen, we're experiencing a minor technical problem..."
Oh dear. It turns out they've lost steering on the nose wheel, which means we have to wait for a tug to pull the plane back to a stand. The flight attendant comes over to apologise and offers a drink. I ask for a cup of coffee, which he brings, shortly followed by a pack of almond biscotti to dunk in it. Very civilised.
Once we've been pulled back to a stand, the captain comes to the front to explain the problem further. He's been trying to steer, but "the computer isn't agreeing." The words "computer says nooo!" come into my head, but I resist shouting it out in case he doesn't appreciate Little Britain references (and besides, the look on his face suggests he might not currently be in the mood to see the funny side of things).
Shortly afterwards, some stairs are pushed up to the plane and a Lufthansa Technik van arrives. An army of men comes on board, armed with a laptop. Meanwhile, the flight attendants from economy class come through to fetch water and cups. They come past on their way back offering blankets and pillows.
After a lot of prodding around, the plane is given the all clear, the engineers head back to their van and we head off towards the runway. Then we're off into the air. After the initial climb, the plane banks slightly, revealing a spectacular view of Berlin out of my window.
As we were waiting on the tarmac at Tegel, I could see the timer on one of the ovens in the plane's galley ticking slowly down from 30. As the timer continued to tick, the smell of meat and vegetables started to fill the air. Of course things went a little bit awry when the plane ended up not leaving the ground, but having got in the air, the timer begins ticking away again. I know they're hiding something in there!
A while later, the flight attendant comes over and asks if I'd like to have dinner. "We've got Christmas dinner or gnocchi with spinach," he says. Aha! So that's what it is...and, yes, Christmas dinner sounds like an excellent idea (even if I did already have one yesterday).
Let's see now...
There's turkey, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, cubed sweet carrot and swede, a bowl of Waldorf salad (it's hiding under a lid in the picture), a nice warm bread roll and...a pair of chocolate reindeer (one of them took cover underneath the plate when I took the picture, but trust me, it's there). Not a bad spread! I'm not sure that its unplanned extended encounter with the oven has left it at its succulent best, but it tastes pretty good (I particularly like the spicing of the carrot and swede cubes).
When I'm finished, the flight attendant offers another drink. I choose coffee again, which he brings promptly, and I recline back to enjoy the rest of the flight. As we near London, the helpful flight attendant comes over again to say we might get a nice view of Windsor Castle out of my side if the cloud's not too low. Unfortunately there's not a whole lot to be seen as the plane comes in to land, but it was nice to be told anyway.
After all the stories I've heard about Heathrow, I expect to see piles of snow like there were in Berlin. Instead, there's a thin dusting on the ground, with blades of grass showing through. While it's clear that people have been clearing the runways and taxiways, it doesn't look like London's been quite the giant ice cube Berlin was.
Still, we've landed and I have to say, it's been nice flying with bmi. A big thanks to their staff for all their support and for making me feel so well looked after!
Disclosure: this trip has been sponsored by bmi. Opinions remain my own, palms lightly greased with business class tickets and chocolate reindeer. If you want to book your own trip to Berlin from the UK, have a look at bmi's flights to Berlin page.