Saturday 17 May 2008

British Midland (BMI) Business Class, London Heathrow to Cairo.

After getting up early for the 9.15am flight, the mediocre croissants and muffins in the British Midland lounge at Heathrow's Terminal 1 don't make for a very appetising breakfast. Still, there is coffee and orange juice and passengers lugging laptops can get online via BT Openzone for £6 an hour. On board, the business class cabin is showing its age. The seats only recline half way, while not all their video screens work properly and the accompanying headphones can be difficult to fit into the sockets. The lackluster in-flight magazine won't hold your attention for long, but, if the video screens are working, you can watch a handful of recent films, such I am Legend, or TV programmes shown on a loop. The mostly female staff, which range from brusque to ebullient, are dressed in smart, intense blue uniforms that match the cabin upholstery. They serve up plenty of drinks, but on the way back from Cairo, the white wine and beer can be too warm.

The three course meal, served on white table cloths, comes with a choice of two substantial starters, both served with a large and admirably-crisp bowl of feta cheese and herb salad or cous cous and bean salad. The salmon tartare with citrus crème fraîche is refined, fresh and tasty, while the rare smoked duck comes with some spicy mango sauce that packs a kick. Among the mains, the beef "pie" has little in the way of meat, no pastry and is accompanied by overcooked peas, beans and potatoes. But the potato-crusted seabass, basmati and wild rice with red peppers is almost a revelation - the carefully-chosen trimmings are a fine complement to the perfectly-cooked fish. To follow, the pick of the deserts is a slice of mild brie and a hunk of delicious creamy coastal cheddar with an assortment of biscuits and red grapes.

If you sit on the right side of the plane on the outward leg, or the left side on the return leg, you will be able to admire the Pyramids, marking the border between brown urban sprawl and yellow desert. At Cairo airport, the queues for tourist visas, passport control and customs move reasonably quickly unless several flights land at once. Before the five-hour flight back, British Midland business class passengers can use the Air Egypt lounge at Cairo airport. 7/10