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REVIEW – British Airways : Club World (Business Class) – London Heathrow to Newark (B772)

British Airways (BA)

  • Flight: BA 185
  • Class: Club World (Business)
  • From: London (LHR)
  • To: Newark (EWR)
  • Duration: 7hr45
  • Aircraft: Boeing 777
  • Seat: 13K
  • Status during flight: OneWorld Sapphire
  • Booking type: £350 for OSL-LHR-NYC Round trip in business 
  • Date: October 2015


Transfer security at LHR Terminal 5 has a reputation for being something of a joke. The Fast Track lanes are often clogged up with hundreds of people, or so I’ve been led to believe. However, on the 5 or 6 occasions that I’ve passed through, I’ve had my documents scanned and been sent on my way very quickly (often passing a seething mass of people, spilling out of the horrendous containment pens in the regular lanes).

This time was thankfully no exception, I only had a 1h10 to connect and my onward flight was from one of the dreaded C gates (a.k.a. halfway to Gatwick), I went up the escalators to premium transit security and was through in around ten minutes.

Seeing as I exited near the BA Galleries North lounge, I decided to quickly drop by and get my FF number updated on my boarding passes, as nothing was showing on the pass and I know what a nightmare it can be to get these things fixed retroactively.

I waited… and waited… and waited.

Gate Closing was showing on the screens by the time I had my boarding pass handed back to me by the lounge agent. Thankfully I managed to hop onto one of the trains to the C gates, seconds before its doors closed. I then ran like a banshee with its legs on fire. It turns out that my flight to EWR was departing from the furthest of all the C gates. The gate had a jet bridge that was longer than most UK high streets. If nothing else I had gone some way to burning off the calories that I was certain to consume on this trip!


British Airways Club World (B777)
LHR-EWR

Despite BA being my home carrier, this was to be my first ever experience of their business class cabin, with its famed yin yang design. This is the cabin that first brought flat beds to business class. BA’s offering is generally panned in reviews so I wasn’t expecting this to rate as a top luxury experience, nonetheless I was still very excited to be trying their product for the first time!

As I dashed across the ‘finish line’ I was greeted by some very friendly members of cabin crew, all of whom were joking and laughing with me, saying they had taken bets as to whether or not I was going to make it.

Despite the friendly greeting, my first impression of the Club World cabin was honestly not great. Having mostly flown reverse herringbone products in mini cabins of two or three rows, the massive expanse of people, with aisle seats on total display and people stacked 8 across, was very impactful. The term ‘flying dormitory’ has been used to describe BA’s long haul business class product and I think that if anything, this slightly underplays the level of chaos and the drab, maudlin appearance of the surroundings.

As soon as I got to my seat, one of the CC came to offer me a PDB: water, juice or champagne. I told her that I could most certainly do with a drink after that sprint! If you know me by now, you know that I opted for champagne.

BA Club World 777 window seat

My initial feelings upon seeing the BA seat were quite mixed. The window seats are extremely private and it is amazing to get three windows in business class.

Actually, thinking about it, it is quite strange that BA has reverse herringbone seats with two windows each in First and fully forward facing seats with three windows each in Business. However, the flipside of this is that the people in the non-window Business Class seats are pretty much screwed. The aisle seats have zero privacy. It literally looks like these people are just lying in the aisle. The middle seats are stranger still, they are stuck together with no divider between them and high walls surrounding each pair on the outside. Great if you’re flying with a companion, absolutely atrocious if you find yourself sharing what amounts to a double bed with a portly businessman.

As you can see in the image above, the seat is also very narrow. My shoulders touched both sides when sitting back.

Not all BA Club World window seats have three windows but one thing is guaranteed: if you’re on a 777, no matter what the configuration, seats 13A and 13K will have a full complement of windows.

As you can see, there is plenty of legroom and no ‘foot cocoon’ on BA Club World. The bed is over 6ft long, so taller people and those with giant feet have a lot to like here. Not sure how I ended up with a First Class seat guide though!

After settling down into my seat I began to explore the features a little. I found the tray table to be quite flimsy and once deployed it had to be folded (at least) in half if you needed to get out of the seat. The feeling of privacy in the window seats becomes one of being trapped once the table is deployed.

BA has very low quality headphones in Business. These changed a couple of months after my flight but from what I can tell this was predominantly a cosmetic change to the outer shell (i.e. still no active noise cancellation).

I was lucky to find myself on a plane which had been refitted with the latest Thales IFE system. The remote was quite responsive, although it doesn’t feature a touch screen (now the standard for top tier J carriers). I found the USB port to be underpowered and think that HDMI would have been a far better choice than RCA ports. The selection of entertainment was great though, I was particularly happy to be able to continue watching the full series ‘The Jinx’.

The adjustable reading light is quite good. I like the fact that there is a dimmer switch to adjust the brightness at different times of the day.

The divider has no visible controls, it is only once an FA came round to raise it post take-off that I realised the control is place on the fixed divider, on top of the IFE screen. When the divider is down, you find yourself looking directly at whoever is sat in the aisle seat, a truly awkward experience.

As I was busy taking pics a member of the cabin crew popped over to offer me an amenity kit. BA, it transpires, use the term rather loosely.

The BA amenity kit is a regretful sack of azure despair.

No, this isn’t a plush sickbag. It is genuinely what BA believes to be an appropriate offering in a premium cabin. One of the world’s best airline’s (Singapore Airlines) doesn’t even offer a kit but rather gives passengers a selection of amenities in the bathrooms. If BA want to cut costs (and evidently they do) they would have done far better to go down this route, as opposed to putting their branding on this thing.

The Elemis lip balm is as you would expect, the other two creams contain at best two ‘servings’ each, before reaching full depletion.

The refurbished 777s have nice new empower plug sockets as well as an additional floor level USB. Unfortunately though, this is it when it comes to storage.

On the surface, the BA Club world design looks very similar to the Apex suite used by JAL. Both feature window seats with an increased degree of privacy and both are fully forward facing with a large number of seats fitted across the cabin.

Yet there are numerous areas in which BA is handily defeated by the Apex suite:

BA Club World JAL Apex Suite
One storage drawer and no fixed surfaces Multiple storage drawers, pockets and shelves
Nowhere to store carryon Fixed ottoman with space for carryon underneath
Window and middle seats must climb over feet of other pax All seats have direct aisle access
Alternating rear and forward facing seats (awkward looking into strangers’ faces) All seats forward facing

The double whammy of having nowhere to store your bag but also being forced to climb over other people to access it, really makes for a rather unpleasant experience on BA.

It is one of the very few long haul business class cabins that I’ve encountered where you have to actively pre-plan and ‘unpack’ at your seat, pre-takeoff.

Every time you have to use the bathroom or retrieve something from your bag, it is an unpleasant event to be dealt with. You are penned in and this sets the tone for your trip. Alternatively you can sleep in an aisle way…and still have nowhere but the tray table and little drawer to store things.

Pre-meal drinks service

Once the crew were released, the pre-meal drinks service began. When I asked for a G&T I was asked whether I preferred Gordons or Tanqueray. I wonder if anybody ever picks Gordons! Thanks to Flyertalk, I also knew to ask for Fever Tree tonic, as BA had recently begun to trial it. The FA wasn’t sure if they had it but went to look, he asked me if I was really able to taste the difference, I assured him that I could.

He then threatened me with a blind tasting later in the flight. I told him that it wouldn’t really be fair if I was already several drinks into the day!

Really nice to see BA serving Fever Tree

The view from seat 13K. I love seeing other planes rushing by!

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The starter, salad and after dinner chocolates are all brought out on single tray. The tablecloth comes with the tray, which speeds up the process but adds quite a tacky feel to the presentation.

The Chicken and duck terrine with kumquat compote and beetroot glaze was very good indeed. Both the presentation and the flavours were excellent. I was also pleasantly surprised by the salad, which was both generously portioned and quite varied in its ingredients. I had a glass of the Pouilly Fumé to accompany this which was very drinkable and, as I’ve often found with BA, quite generously poured!

For the main course I had pre-ordered the beef online. There is so much folklore surrounding the (lack of) quality of BA’s beef that I felt compelled to see quite how bad it really is.

There was a tiny bit of pink visible and the meat was actually bizarrely tender. However in terms of flavour, it tasted incredibly watery, like a steak that has been cooked from frozen and has been steamed rather than grilled. So, not as tough as old boots but not exactly delicious either. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: slow cooked beef tastes great, cheaper cuts can be used and it lends itself very well to reheating at altitude. It’s a win/win for airlines to serve things like brisket and short-rib in their Business cabins. Steaks require far too much hand holding to come out well when reheated for large numbers of people.

After my main course was cleared I was offered either cheese or dessert. My understanding is that you can ask for both and will often have your request fulfilled, as long as there are leftovers after the first pass of the cabin.

I went with cheese after the meal and was pleased to see Thomas J Fudge biscuits, these are really crisp and delicious and something you’d expect BA to keep for the First Class cabin. The cheeses were both rather mild and bland though and no choice was offered (unlike the cheese trolley on Thai’s business class). I don’t have a sweet tooth at all so tend to have red wine with my cheese, as opposed to port. I went with a glass of the Château du Retout: a smooth and pleasant claret.

After lunch I tried out the Club World bed.

When it was first introduced, the Club World product was truly revolutionary, no other airline in the world offered a flat bed in business class. Nowadays of course, flat beds are the industry standard. Where BA still stands out is in the fact that the surface isn’t angled at all and it leaves your feet completely unobstructed. Despite the fact that there is no mattress topper I did find the bed to be very comfortable. Amongst the most comfortable surfaces I’ve encountered in a Business Class cabin.

After a refreshing three hour nap I awoke to find another jet on our flank. I love being sat on the wing, watching this immense saw blade warping and cutting through the air as if it was water – a truly captivating experience. Is is amazing how much the tips of the wings raise up once you are airborne, it is easy to picture the plane being held up like a bobbing puppet with the strings, one on each wingtip, gently tugged by some unseen giant.

I was a bit peckish upon waking and headed over to the club kitchen in the galley, the cupboard was rather bare at this stage though, so a kind member of cabin crew offered me an early afternoon tea instead. This is almost exactly the same afternoon tea that is served in F. The sole apparent differences being that in F you can get proper coffee and the sandwiches come unwrapped.

I sampled one of the sweets, for quality control purposes… It was pretty good. The hot scone was fantastic. Perfect texture, just crumbly enough without coming to pieces once cream and jam were spread.

I’m not much of a tea drinker but once I get going I find it hard to say no to a friendly offer of a top up. It was nice to have the tea in a proper mug. I have to say though, the lack of decent coffee in a Business Class cabin is truly shocking. I’ve never encountered nor heard of another airline that restricts coffee to the F cabin. Nespresso capsules are so cheap and coffee drinking so prevalent nowadays that BA really come off as cheap and anachronistic in their obstinate refusal to give business class passengers a passable espresso based drink.

Unfortunately the weather in NJ wasn’t really cooperating.

You woke up this morning, Got a blue moon in your eyes…

 


Conclusion


 

BA’s Club World is a great value product, most of the time it can be had for a fraction of the cost of other carriers’ business class fares. There is a reason for this.

The cabin decor is drab, bland and uninspired. The only thing about the experience that feels premium are the cheese biscuits and the Fever Tree tonic. There is close to zero storage space around the seat. Aisle seats are completely exposed, no more private than economy. Middle seats can lead to bizarre and uncomfortable sharing scenarios, whilst window seats require stepping over other passengers in order to escape.

The pillows are paper thin, the only way to get a decent sleep is to stuff a jumper into the pillowcase to bolster the size. The blankets look and feel like they’ve come from a dog’s basket and the headphones and amenity kits are of an extremely low quality.

The coffee issue is also quite insulting. They have a machine and capsules costing 10p wholesale onboard but if you’re flying in Business Class these aren’t for you, despite this being a ‘premium cabin’.

The cabin crew were very friendly and competent on this flight and were the main highlight. Ultimately though, the crews alone aren’t enough to make me want to book BA over the likes of Qatar, Etihad, Cathay, Singapore, EVA Air or American when the pricing is even vaguely similar.

For £350 return though… this was fantastic!