Context: It’s the first direct flight from a European country to New Orleans since the 1980s. I’ve been coming to New Orleans since 2001. I have previously flown every which way in terms of routes, changing at Dallas, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or Miami, or Charlotte, or New York, or small, unmarked airfields somewhere in Arkansas and they are ALL annoying.
You have to clear customs at your first stop in the United States, so you’re sweating about making your connection as you wait in the unending immigration queue, then you have to collect your bags and lug them to the next check in and then go through security again in a different terminal and then swim to a neighbouring island and learn the ways of the natives and it’s never not stressful.
In short, just the abstract idea of a direct flight has been a wonderful source of serotonin repletion ever since it was announced.
The plane they're using on the route – at least the one I was on – is a Dreamliner 787. Modern, comfortable and a model that doesn’t seem to catch fire half as much as it seemed to when it came out. The seats and entertainment systems are great, even in Economy (where I sat), and instead of window shutters, they have a button that increases and decreases the tint, just like a rapper’s car probably has.
I also love that on these planes, you can start watching TV and movies straight away, and then right up until you’re at the destination gate. I remember the days when you had to wait until about 20 minutes after reaching cruising height for everyone to watch the same Mr Bean episode on terrible screens, so an instantly-available, on-demand box set of even The Big Bang Theory seems like the stuff of a madman’s dreams (in the same way that show’s endless re-commissioning does).
It was a routine service. The only concession I could see to the route was the choice of a ‘Creole’ chicken dish for lunch. As far as giving you a sense of place goes, I’m not sure that just hefting okra into a regular chicken lunch is the greatest trick ever pulled, but bravo for trying.
As we started to descend, the party really started. What I mean by that is that they announced that it was the inaugural flight (I’m sure many people didn’t even know) and BA had never flown here in their 98-year history and people clapped politely (it has since been suggested that this is a filthy lie and that BA had a Gatwick service in the 80s). This instantly gave me an idea of the demographics, Brit-Americans-wise, though.
I’ve been on a few inaugural flights, and the bit I like the most is the reception at the destination airport, where they line up the fire trucks and spray fire hoses, like a watery guard of honour that is initially very concerning to many people but when they explain what’s going on, everybody loves it because we are all toddlers at heart.
Reader, I craned my neck as we taxied to the stand, bracing myself for a welcoming jet. That jet never came. How dare they deprive the three or four people who were probably looking out for it their moment of cheap pleasure?! That said, I hope there wasn’t a real fire that was keeping the trucks otherwise engaged.
Now then, the border security at New Orleans is a place I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing before as I’m usually standing, sweaty-faced, at immigration in Chicago or Des Moines. It had more desks than I thought, and it went faster than some big international airports (I was maybe half way down the line and it took me around 20-25 minutes to clear).
The best bit by far was the enthusiasm of the border security guards. The chap that I got was beaming as I showed him my i-Visa (the one they issue to visiting media).
“THIS IS MY FIRST ONE OF THESE!” he beamed. “Man, I am tempted to take a photo!” (I mean, there are literally dozens of cameras pointed at us in the booth, but whatever)
He’d only ever processed business visas before, and this slightly different visa was obviously like some kind of rare administrative Pokemon.
“Big day for you guys, huh?” I smiled. I felt like a proud dad as he stamped it. Immigration does not usually work like this.
The bags came out and as we strolled through customs, the faint strains of clichéd brass band tunes confirmed my greatest hopes – that New Orleans Airport had organised a reception for us!
Joy be unconfined, that’s exactly what they HAD done, airport employees doling out British Airways branded Mardi Gras beads to bemused Brits and annoyed locals who just wanted to get to their Uber. Tote bags with luggage tags and maps and a broken wooden model plane were thrust into our hands, the brass band looking only slightly dishevelled as they’d probably been waiting for at least an hour. I hope they were drunk.
And there it was. London to New Orleans in nine and half hours, a friendly welcome and a brass band that will now serenade all arrivals from the UK in perpetuity, their descendants taking up their clarinets and tubas as they pass away, my life at substandard American Airlines lounges that only have free olives and no sandwiches in Chicago and Dallas and Atlanta a thing of the past.
Laissez les bon temps voler!
Flights from £694 return - go to www.ba.com