Artist rendering of upgraded JFK Terminal 7

Artist rendering of upgraded JFK Terminal 7

By Eileen Ogintz

LONDON (Day 1 of 3) — Why am I so surprised? I arrived at JFK International Airport stressed after a two-hour slog through New York traffic expecting the usual non-helpful airline and security staff who these days seem to make travel even more painful.

Instead, the British Airways staff at JFK couldn’t have been nicer and I breezed through security. The gods must have been smiling on me because I got upgraded!

Truth be told, it is decidedly not bad flying premium economy on an overnight flight—more legroom and a different menu.  But business class with the seats that fold flat into a bed meant I actually slept. In fact, I remember dinner being served (a lamb dish), wine being offered, turning on a movie on my personal TV and the next thing I knew, the flight attendant was asking if I wanted breakfast.

Of course, the flight from New York to London isn’t that long—only about an hour longer than going from New York to LA—but a decidedly more comfortable way to go during the night anyway. I arrived ready to face the day, which was a good thing as our hotel room wouldn’t be ready for hours.

We waited for the flight in the comfortable Club World Lounge where all around me people were working, texting, chatting on their cell phones, having a snack—a sandwich, soup, a drink… some chips.  I was thinking maybe there would be less fuming arguments between airline staff and stressed passengers if somehow everyone could decompress in a lounge for a little while.

British Airways operates up to 20 flights a day between three London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and London City) and New York, serving more than 100,000 passengers a month. Just last month, the airline announced a $65 million investment in JFK Terminal 7, which should improve the airport experience for everyone from a new larger check in area to the introduction of a New York culinary experience with American comfort food—everything from gourmet sandwiches to burgers, a wine bar, local roast coffee and pastries. The idea is they shouldn’t be more than a few minutes from their departure gates

For those lucky enough to fly business and first visit, there will be new lounges with more focus on pre-flight dining.

Terminal 7 also serves customers flying other carriers including Iberia, Quantas and Icelandair—5 million passengers a year.

The Galleries Club Lounge has a Kids Zone with TV, puzzles, games and books. For the grownups, there is a complimentary Elemis spa where 15 minute treatments are available—Flying Facials, Stress Sway Shoulder to Scalp, Flying Feet, Exotic Hand and Arm Re-Energizer, Spot-On Power Back Massage.  If only I hadn’t been stuck in traffic for so long!

The new upgrade promises an experience more like BA’s famous lounges at Heathrow where there  are six lounges collectively known as “Galleries” –even a champagne bar in the Galleries First Lounge and for those arriving, a place to shower and even get their clothes pressed before a business meeting.

British Air hasn’t forgotten families. Besides plenty of entertainment on board, this summer the airline is offering free flights for kids who travel with a full paying adult between Heathrow and Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Inverness, Belfast and Billund in Denmark, the home of Lego. Two kids can fly for free when traveling with an adult all summer. There are also kids eat free deals at restaurants at Heathrow Terminal 5, complimentary travel for kids on the wonderful Heathrow Express that whisks you between central London and the airport in 20 minutes as compared to an hour and 20 minutes through traffic, and kids stay free at certain Hilton Hotels.

Can you imagine American carriers doing this?