TRIP REPORT: British Airways, London - Zagreb

TRIP REPORT


Submitted by Jakov Fabinger

BA 848
Departs LHR T5: 08:20
Arrives in ZAG: 11:35
Date: Sunday 01 April (Easter day)
Ticket price: £93 (includes return two weeks later)
Fare: Basic (hand luggage only)
Aircraft: A320, 4 years old
Load factor: 86% (103/120) in economy

This was my first time flying British Airways to Zagreb. It was a forced choice. In the summer of 2017 there were 18 weekly flights between London and Zagreb, on all days of the week and across the different times of the day: I could fly out of London straight from work on a Friday at 8pm with Croatia Airlines, or first thing on a Saturday morning, with British Airways at 08:25. I could even take a daytrip to Zagreb on Mondays, departing Gatwick at 07:00 with Monarch and landing back into Heathrow with Croatia Airlines at 19:15.

Come summer 2018 and almost half of these 18 weekly flights (8 OU, 7 BA, 3 ZB) have evaporated: there are now 7 BA and 3 OU flights, with BA flying daily at 08:25 and OU flying Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the evenings. Even with Croatia Airlines converting their Saturday Heathrow-Split service into Heathrow-Zagreb on a dozen selected Saturdays during peak summer season, that is simply not enough weekly services for me to find OU convenient. BA is a much better option with its daily service that allows for more booking flexibility when it comes to dates. It is also significantly cheaper.

British Airways releases one-way tickets to Zagreb at the starting price of £55 for the basic fare, and then incrementally increases them as the plane fills up. See the price graph below, which I got Google to track for me. Croatia Airlines does the same, but its one-way tickets are released at £152 (it used to be £50 before the slot sale!), and their incremental increases are huge: Economy tickets sell for up to £700 around UK school holidays. OU is clearly targeting a high yield on this route, which they claim has never been profitable to them - much to my absolute astonishment. Either way, on the London-Zagreb route you are always better off buying as early as possible, regardless of when you're travelling or whether it's BA or OU. But if price is your sole deciding factor, between the two choices you're almost always going to prefer British Airways.

Price tracking: BA return ticket to Zagreb

Getting to Heathrow at 7 in the morning is surprisingly difficult given that this is Europe's busiest airport. The night tube is now running, but only on a small portion of the network. Thus, if you don't live by a Piccadilly line station, as I don't, you can either spend several hours riding various night buses across London (because even the trains aren't running into London on early Sunday mornings) or you can get a cab. I chose Uber over public transport because the car ride lasted 30 minutes while the night buses would have taken 3.5 hours!

I arrived at Heathrow at 7, and proceeded to Security straight away. All I was carrying with me were two bags, the maximum cabin allowance of BA's Basic fare. Security took me 6 minutes to clear, slightly longer than what I am used to at Heathrow. They have a fantastic system of queue management, with a dozen staff on site to direct incoming passenger streams. I always found them very efficient, and pleasant to interact with at the same time.

My two cabin bags, both of which fall within BA's generous Basic fare policy

Zagreb is one of four BA departures at 08:20, along with Amsterdam, Geneva and Kiev

All passengers wait in the central waiting area of the Departures section until their gate is announced 50 minutes before the departure of their flight. The system is designed to maximise the time passengers spend being exposed to the terminal's restaurants, outlets and bookshops. It always works on me - I have never passed through without buying something! This time it was paracetamol, as I was feeling feverish, and a bottle of water to drink the medicine with.

When the screen announced that BA848 would depart from gate B34 I proceeded out of the central Departures hall downstairs, to the shuttle train that would take me to B gates. Getting to the train, being on it for two stops, and then disembarking and walking to B34 took about 12 minutes in total. When I entered the train I started hearing Croatian words, and by the time I got to B34 the language could be heard everywhere. For some reason that always feels odd: unlike in Germany, it is almost impossible to hear any of the Ex-Yu languages on the streets of London.

Shuttle train to B gates

Parked at B gates: a BA Dreamliner (G-ZBKF), an absolute beauty!

Gate B34: BA848 to Zagreb

British Airways doesn't board Business first and Economy second, it boards by groups. You are assigned a group based on how much you paid for your ticket, with 1 being the highest and 5 the lowest. I always take pride in boarding with Group 5, possibly for the same reason I enjoying flying with Ryanair: it tells me I've managed to get myself a good deal.

Group boarding

During boarding I had a look around and found that most people were holding a blue passport - Croatian blue. This surprised me, as I was under the impression that BA848 was mostly a transfer flight for tourists from the three A's: Australia, Asia and the Americas. The flight is codeshared by American as well as Qantas, and it is clearly timed to be a connection for all the oneworld trans-continental services. I don't have any data so I cannot conclude how many of these Croats were transferring from across the world, but the people I spoke to were all P2P passengers. The lady who was with me in the boarding queue was travelling back to Croatia, having been to Oxford to visit her son who works there. The family behind me were Croats living in London, going to Zagreb to spend the Easter break with their extended family.

Presumably British Airways saw a strong surge in P2P demand following Monarch's collapse and Croatia Airlines' slot sale. This flight mostly comprised of classic diaspora traffic, although the couple seated next to me were tourists: they were transfer passengers from Hong Kong, on their way to Zagreb where they would spend a day before flying with OU to Dubrovnik for a week, and then return to Zagreb to catch a BA flight to Hong Kong via Heathrow again.

Our bus, looking very small between BA's 777 and a 747

The whole boarding by groups process turned out to be pointless when passengers discovered that we were not boarding our plane but a bus. Apart from Business, who were bussed away first, Groups 3 to 5 were all in the same two busses. In fact, Group 5 had the advantage of being the last to enter the bus and the first to exit it: we were closest to the doors, so we actually entered the aircraft before Group 3 did.

We had to be bussed because BA848 was the first flight of the day for our A320, so we had to be taken to Terminal 5's parking positions. This bus ride took some 6 minutes. Quite long, but still shorter than the bus ride from Zagreb Airport's parking positions to the terminal building.

Boarding our A320

British Airways' Airbus interior

The interior on BA's newer Airbuses is gorgeous. The leather seats don't recline but they are fairly comfortable and the legroom isn't too unbearable for a 2-hour flight. Still, I like to get up and stand whenever the seatbelt sign is off since my long legs have nowhere to go as soon as I place a bag underneath the seat in front of me. I stand even on long-haul so if you ever see a young, tall man standing in the aisle without actually being in the queue for the lavatories, do come by for a chat. Especially if you're up for a multiplayer game of black-belt sudoku.

British Airways' Airbus interior

The Basic fare does not include seat changes. You are assigned a seat at check-in, and changing it to any other seat will cost a minimum of £8. I always accept the seat I am given and then go to the customer service desk at the airport and ask to be moved to an aisle seat as far forward as possible. This always works, and BA customer service representatives are always lovely. For my flight to Munich in May they moved me from a middle seat in row 26 to an aisle seat in row 4!

The New York Times is complementary at the point of boarding

BA's Comic Relief sketch is played on every flight prior to take off - this always makes me laugh!

Our push off was on time, but the actual take off was some 10 minutes behind schedule due to taxiway congestion. Given my past Heathrow experiences this was actually pretty good: I was once on a Gulf Air flight that waited 30 minutes to be given take-off clearance as dozens of incoming planes were prioritised to land. We eventually arrived in Zagreb on time, as a result of favourable winds.

The whole flight experience was highly pleasant. You don't get any food or drink for free in BA Economy, but the Marks and Spencer’s On Board menu offers a very good selection for purchase. I got myself a packet of salted crisps, and I used Avios, BA's miles award programme, to buy it. The process is brilliantly simple: you show your Avios membership card, the air steward writes down your name, and you get your food. I thoroughly recommend their warm bacon sandwich, which is delicious!

My on board purchase

The shared screens display flight information for the duration of the journey

The cabin view of Economy from the back, load factor: 17 free seats out of 120

The ideal window view

The landing in Zagreb was smooth, though the taxiing took a while. I certainly remember it being shorter before the new terminal was built. Still, if longer taxiing is the price we had to pay to get air corridors for boarding, I accept it.

I was rather stunned to find that we were the only aircraft at the entire airport: there was a Croatia Airlines Dash parked in the distance, but it looked like it was not going anywhere in the next few hours. Not a single other aircraft was anywhere to be seen around this vast complex of infrastructure, and we continued to be the only one until 40 minutes later an Aeroflot A320 landed from Moscow. While I accept that attracting Emirates was a major success for the airport, I strongly believe that they need to secure more European flights ASAP.

Our A320 parked at Zagreb Airport

The airport building is modern, clean and fairly functional. It takes very little time to get out of the aircraft, through the airport, and into the car park. I value this very highly. However, this was largely as a result of us being the only set of arriving passengers in the entire building. The airport space is vast and largely unused, which gives it a majestic feel but at the same time makes it look like a large museum during a period of night-time closure.

Passport control: very large space, presumably to accommodate periods of high demand (like Emirates arriving together with Aeroflot and LH)

The baggage reclaim facility: functionally designed to get through speedily, though how long it took for luggage to arrive I don't know because I had none

Interestingly, Air Serbia advertises its flights to New York from all the screens at Zagreb Airport's baggage reclaim. This advert interchanges with several more, including one for Air Canada's Toronto flights, and several local car rental firms as well as Zagreb Tourist Board.

Air Serbia advert

Arrivals hall

The view straight outside of the arrivals hall

My journey finished just like it started, with an Uber ride, and for the same reason: lack of adequate public transport. It is just as disappointing of Zagreb to offer no rail service to the city centre as it is of London to offer no night tube. Uber, on the other hand, offers a fantastic service in Zagreb: for a fixed price of 90 Kuna (£11) you can get to anywhere within Zagreb, including even all the way to Sljeme! That is some great value for money considering that it took driver Mate and me just under 30 minutes to get to my destination.

I should add that my return journey back into London two weeks later was just as pleasant. I originally purchased a return ticket of 12 days in duration, but as I had to stay in Croatia for longer I requested a date change. Due to BA having high fees for such requests, on top of which I would also have had to pay the fare difference, I chose instead to purchase a new one-way ticket (Basic fare again, for £69) and request a refund for the flight I was not going to take. No matter when you wish to cancel, you can always request your airline company to pay you back some of the money that you paid them: BA gave me £11 for my no-show after subtracting a £10 admin fee from the £21 of taxes and landing charges that they owed me for not taking that flight.


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Comments

  1. Thanks for the very detailed report. I enjoyed it very much.

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  2. Nice report, always a great to see something different. I am surprised there were only 103 passengers in economy so close to the holidays.

    What other airlines beside BA and SU land between the two OU waves?

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    1. There's an Iberia flight from Madrid just before the BA flight, and then a Croatia Airlines arrival from Prague at noon. Emirates arrives just after Aeroflot.

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  3. Nice report.
    Just a small correction: Uber raised their prices throughout the country, so the flat rate from/to the airport is 110kn.

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    1. Why did they do that?

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    2. Because the local law was changed so Uber can conduct business in Croatia properly and therefore their expenses rose.

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    3. I also read somewhere that this is to reflect "summer demand". Still, they remain considerably cheaper and more convenient (cash-free) than any other alternative.

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  4. Why didn't you take Pleso Prevoz? What happened to them once they were sold.

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    1. Pleso Prijevoz departs every 30 minutes between the airport and the main bus depot, but if your final destination isn't closer to it, why not taking Uber that drops you off at your doorstep?

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    2. I never used an Uber because I don't know how to.

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    3. How much is taxi?

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    4. Too much. More than 200kn.

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    5. Wow. What a rip off.

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    6. Not for the length of trip.

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  5. When will BA go double daily to ZAG?

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    1. Very few slots at LHR available. The second flight would have to be from Gatwick which is also very good and conveniently connected with the airport.

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    2. *with the city, not airport

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    3. Double daily seems extremely unlikely, even from Gatwick. They are still occasionally sending the A319 on their single daily flight, even in the height of the summer season, usually at least once a week. All of the winter flights remain scheduled on the A319 as well, at least for now.

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    4. Seems that lots of Croats moved to London last couple of years!

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  6. Fantastic report thank you. Looking forward to reading more from you

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    1. Thank you! I am flying from Stuttgart to Pula next week, and I'm going to make a video trip report about it. Stay tuned :)

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    2. Looking forward!

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  7. A real shame OU reduced it's frequencies from The. The prices have sky-rocketed from London to Zagreb. I was looking only other day and for September BA were charging £450 return for their basic fare without luggage.

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    1. Yup. Bought two return tickets with BA maybe a month ago for mid August for 3800kn.

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    2. No Easyjet to Zagreb?

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    3. No for years. But they would be stupid not to come back with such demand and lack of flights between Zagreb and London. Even with such fees at the airport.

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    4. Reading this report and your comment it seems there is room for additional daily flight from LGW either by BA or Easy.

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    5. easyJet is massively expanding in Ljubljana, where it serves quite a lot of the Zagreb market as well. That probably means they are not going to come to Zagreb, sadly.

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    6. Massively isn't the right term. They operate tot London ritesr with Berlin starting next month. Also, that doesn't mean that they won't ever restart Zagreb service. It's London, not Kiev.

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    7. Tot was obviously meant to be two.

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  8. Thank you Jakov! Great and comprehensive report.

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  9. Thank you Jakov! Your writng skills are impeccable. Such beautiful introspectives. Marvelous! Hats off.

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  10. Great report. I fly this route with BA very often and I really wish there were more flights since planes lately have been totally full (A320 on Thursday). Gave up on OU a long time ago. Jakov you were lucky you landed on time, since if passport control at ZAG has more planes to handle, more passengers, it’s a mess. I am always amazed how quickly things go at Heathrow’s T5, and how in ZAG you never know what to expect and how long you will wait. I usually use Avios to reduce price of my ticket on purchase and I now board in group 3 (Bronze member since I fly a lot) which is really good if they fly from A gates at T5, you board pretty quickly

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    1. Interesting. Each time I flew to Zagreb it was at odd times so I never experienced a long wait, neither for arrivals nor departures.

      One thing I miss from the days I flew Croatia Airlines from Heathrow is that the flight always departed from one of the first few gates of Terminals 123, whereas the BA flight from Terminal 5 always takes a long time to get to - on foot, by shuttle train and by bus!

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    2. Zagreb is hit and miss efficiency-wise, it seems to depend on how many passengers they are handling, so I hope with more long-haul routes opening, there will be enough people to handle those passengers.

      With T5 at Heathrow it depends if its A, B or C gates, in most cases (I usually fly on weekdays), they fly from A gates, so its convenient. During the winter season they often fly from A17 or one of A20 somethings, I remember A1 a couple of times. But this week it was the same gate as in your case, B34 and a bus. The bus then took us to the plane parked just off end of the C concourse (I guess in your case too since you mentioned the 6-minute bus ride), so I wondered why we didn't go to C gates with the train, but I guess there were not enough gates.

      In Zagreb they board groups 1, 2 and 3 together, so it's super quick boarding if you are in one of the groups.

      I have never flown OU that much because whenever I would compare prices, BA was always a better deal. I like T2, but T5 is super easy if you take Piccadilly Line. My personal record (I always fly with hand-luggage only) is 3 minutes from the train, up with the lift to the gates and then through security :-). I am at the other end of the Piccadilly Line, and I usually take the first Heathrow-bound train, and it takes forever to get to Heathrow, but it's only 3 pounds. At T2 it takes longer as there is some walking to be done from the tube and up to security, so T5 is a better deal for me in that respect too, especially when you have the 8:25 plane to catch.

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    3. I love the Piccadilly line too! Still, I am amazed you can stomach it all the way from the other end... I suppose you can get a seat if you get on before it enters Zone 2 from the East. I only have to take it for just over an hour, but it's from St Pancras so I either don't always get on if I have a suitcase, or get on but have to endure a dozen stations of getting on and off as people come in and out the door.

      I am amazed you can make it for the 8:25 flight though. My problem is that I need to get to St Pancras via Thameslink first, and for the Sunday morning departure the trains don't run early enough. Even weekdays are tricky. Only Saturdays work for me!

      You're lucky with your experiences at T5. I have always flown from B gates, both short-haul and long-haul, except on one occasion to Munich. And yes, I fully agree, the time it takes to get from the tube station to security is astonishingly short. I love T5!

      On two occasions I flew from T4, which is probably the least aesthetically pleasing terminal as well as the least efficient to get through, the time it took me to get to my gate from the tube stop was in both cases shorter than getting to B gates in T5, simply because the gate was closer.

      A small tip on Croatia Airlines: if you buy early (e.g. right now for 2019) you will get ridiculously cheap prices through Expedia. I bought a £100 return ticket for this year's October half-term holiday, less than a month ago. I managed to time my holiday to get on one of OU's rare direct Gatwick to Zagreb flights, which I am quite looking forward to.

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    4. Thanks for the tip on Croatia Airlines. I'll keep an eye on them.

      Definitely stopped flying with them when we landed in Zagreb at 2 AM instead of 10 PM the day before, and now with only 3 flights a week, it's difficult to make it work for me. The long delay took place when they used T1 while it was still alive. Sounds like a very good deal you've found with them, well done.

      I guess I've become too loyal to BA, but I'm cheating on them this fall on a long-haul with Singapore Airlines :-). I guess loyalty has its limits too.

      The journey is long with Piccadilly Line, but at least I always get a seat and I can get some work done, that is if I can wake up my brain. I start my journey in Zone 5, so I always get a seat in those wee hours of the morning.

      I've used Thameslink once to get to Gatwick, it's quite good compared to nightmares such as Great Northern, but it was very slow from Central London to Croydon, so it was quite a long journey, even though a pleasant one. At least there's a toilet, unlike on the Tube, so you don't turn yellow if there's a call of nature.

      Thanks again for the fab report on your flight with BA.

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  11. Nice report. I fly BA on this route a lot. Never heard a safety briefing in Croatian..only English (easyjet does on routes to HR) and they often run out of sandwiches/fresh food by row 12! Come back Easyjet!

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  12. tnx for sharing your trip with us

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