Written by Thomas Saunders
LARNACA – I booked this flight purely to travel on the final Boeing 767 flight, despite its lack of advertising from British Airways.
Whilst the details of Larnaca itself will be far from detailed, I will be sharing what I experienced in the few hours I was there for.
Flight Number: BA663
Origin: Larnaca International Airport (LCA/LCLK)
Destination: London Heathrow Airport (LHR/EGLL)
Aircraft: Boeing 767
My day started on the early British Airways flight to Larnaca. One thing to note is the Heathrow-based Airbuses are far nicer than the ones based at Gatwick, which I traveled on earlier in the summer.
Once at the Airport, I didn’t check in, as the agent at Heathrow had checked me in for both flights that morning.
The passport control area was fantastic. Instead of the traditional ‘e-gates’ that most airports have, they had passport ‘kiosks’, which checked your passport then generated a receipt which you then gave to a border control officer.
Finally, there was a small queue at security, but nothing that you wouldn’t expect for an airport with a handful of flights, all due for departure in fairly quick succession.
Overall, from entering the security/passport control area to being airside only took about 20 minutes, which I really cannot complain about.
Once we were through I headed straight to the lounge, as I was in Club Europe for the flight.
From the lounge, there is a reasonably good view of the ramp. Sadly, due to falling light by the time I got there, the photos weren’t worth the time it took me to take them.
The lounge’s selection of food was not wide. I had some crisps and a bottle of water, however, I found myself in Burger King (which was abandoned!) for a late lunch/early dinner rather than having food in the lounge.
Majority of the people in the lounge were there for the Boeing 767 flight.
As the aircraft landed and made its way towards its stand, the outside ‘balcony’ area was filled with people recording the final time that a British Airways Boeing 767 would park on a stand away from London.
After the aircraft, we all made our way to the gate.
The advertised gate was gate 44, however, as I was in Club Europe, I actually boarded through gate 43, as Larnaca takes advantage of the two forward doors on a Boeing 767.
Before boarding, the crew all boarded via gate 43 whilst we were all waiting.
It was then that I realised this flight was going to be like no other flight I had ever been on!
Finally, before boarding commenced, the gate agents all took a ‘selfie’ to commemorate the event. Apparently, this is the last time gate 43 will be used for a flight like this.
Once boarding started, I was one of the first through, although I was far from the first onto the plane, having taken a few photos from the Jetway.
Upon boarding, the atmosphere was completely different from any other flight I had been on. What did hit me was how dated the aircraft interior
However, I cannot hold that against the aircraft, I certainly wasn’t expecting the most modern and clean aircraft going.
After all, within 24 hours she was taken to St Athan for parting out and scrap. A blanket and pillow were provided, however, I don’t think anyone got around to using them!
After boarding was complete, the crew welcomed everyone on board, informed us all that not only had the crew been hand-picked for this very special flight, but we also had a huge crew.
The crew was formed of 12 cabin crew (4 of which were cabin service directors) and 4 pilots (3 captains and first officer). I was in seat 2A (which is equivalent to 1A), meaning I could see all of the activity in the galley via a mirror that is built into the aircraft’s galley.
As the jetways were removed, and during our pushback, the gate agents who had earlier been taxing selfies at the gate were seen on the jetway taking pictures and videos.
The taxi phase was nothing special, the normal safety briefing video was shown on the very dated looking IFE displays, which whilst engaging I find a little annoying.
We were lucky that the crew were able to take a rolling take off, so we got more time to experience the roar of the RB211 engines for the last time, which is spectacular.
After a very smooth take off, we are given our commemorative certificates.
This was the first of the unexpected gestures from British Airways, given that there was no advertising of the final flight, and next to no hype outside of the crew and passengers.
It was during this phase of flight where the hand-picked crew really started to show.
I’ve always maintained that a great crew makes a great flight, and this confirmed that theory to no end.
From humorous remarks to my choice of water over any other of the (many) drink options to organising the mass signing of the certificates by the flying crew.
Whilst in the climb, I also got the opportunity to speak to the captain, who was also retiring after this flight. She took the chance to walk the whole aircraft, on both aisles, talking to all the enthusiasts, sharing their experiences with the Boeing 767.
In the Cruise
Once we were established in the cruise, the food started to be served. The menu was really well made, with a variety for everyone.
I had the Mediterranean grilled chicken salad for my main. There was a small bowl of Hummus with assorted Crudités for a starter and a chocolate mousse for dessert.
The mousse was by far the best I’ve had on an aeroplane, and probably only second to a homemade mousse.
The alcoholic drinks, along with tea, coffee, hot chocolate and a selection of soft drinks were available to go along with the meal.
Further, into the cruise, the envelopes for the British Airways charity were collected.
I’m extremely happy to report that the bag that they were placed in was bulging, and I hope a good sum of money was raised.
Throughout all of this, the party atmosphere continued, with the galleys and isles always filled with people chatting, champagne flowing like no tomorrow and much more.
As we got into the final hour of the flight, glasses of champagne (or orange juice) were handed out to all of the passengers.
After a short speech about the aircraft from one of the cabin crew members, all of the passengers gave a toast to the Boeing 767.
The speech entailed:
“Now for many of us on board, this is quite an emotional experience. Charged with much nostalgia and sentiment, for the aircrew who have clocked up thousands of flying hours on her, our British engineers who have maintained her and serviced her for over 28 years, British Airways ground teams who have met and dispatched the aircraft and the many aviation enthusiasts and journalists on board today, along with the 767 regular customers.”
“We have grown very fond of this dear Boeing, and she has become a bit like a dear old friend, quirky, eccentric, characterful, fond of her warts and all”.
“So ladies and gentlemen, I think it is only fitting that we raise our glasses to say thank you so much to this dear Boeing that has been a classic workhorse at British Airways, provided the aircraft with steadfast service, but far more important than all of this, this Boeing 767 has bought her customers and her aircrew safely home time and time again to their loved their loved ones. It is truly the end of an era.”
This was one of many occasions that got the tears going for quite a few people.
G-BZHA’s Final Descent
It felt like we had only just got airborne when the engines spooled back and we started our descent into Heathrow.
You could feel the sense of sadness when the seatbelt signs went on for the last time, but the party atmosphere was still very much alive.
Given the late hour of our arrival into Heathrow, sadly there was no delay.
I think everyone on board wanted a bit of a hold to extend the time they had on board the aircraft.
Before we knew it, we were on base leg and I could see Heathrow out of the window. This really was it, the beginning of the end of an era.
The landing onto Heathrow’s Runway 09 Left was extremely smooth for such a big aircraft (I’ve been in rougher landings, in similar conditions on smaller aircraft!), and the pilots gave us one last opportunity to hear the fantastic roar of the RB211 engines in full reverse.
There were lots of us who wanted a go around, but sadly that didn’t happen.
The Final Moments
We had hardly vacated the runway before a round of applause started. Whilst I normally do not like to clap a landing, this was different.
This was more akin to a festival crowd cheering their favourite band, not passengers congratulating/thanking the pilots, crew and aircraft.
As we taxied in, there was another PA made, not only welcoming everyone to London, but thanking all of the passengers and crew for being there for the very special flight.
A special word was also put in for our captain, who as I mentioned earlier was retiring at the end of this flight. Another huge round of applause followed the PA.
During the taxi, we had 3 follow me cars and around 5 vehicles of various types parked along our route to see us in.
Once on stand at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, on the ‘A gates’ the captain came into the cabin and humorously make a PA asking everyone if the landing was good enough, which of course everyone said it was.
Once the door to the aircraft was open, there were around 10 people, including Police, Heathrow staff and Engineers all there to see us arrive.
From the jetway, I took one last photo of G-BZHA before heading into an abandoned Heathrow and starting my drive home, ending a flight I will never forget!
A testament to this flight without a doubt was a passenger who had a fear of flying, cured their fear on that flight, from being scared of the Air Conditioning noise before departure to having photos with the crew, visiting the flight deck and taking the safety cards.
The best way to describe the experience is bittersweet.
I’d wholeheartedly recommend the flights with British Airways on the Boeing 767, but sadly I cannot.
Sleep well, G-BZHA, you’ve provided 300 passengers and crew, including myself, with a flight they will never forget.