Mixed Review of the New British Airways Premium Economy (Trip Report)

When British Airways asked me if I wanted to go to the Olympics, I didn’t really have to think twice. But just wanting to go to the Olympics alone isn’t enough for me to take a trip. After all, I write about airlines and I would need something new to write about. Fortunately, British Airways was open to suggestions. [This trip was paid for by British Airways.]

World Traveller Plus Exit Row

After batting around a couple ideas, I came up with a winner. The early flight from LA to London this summer is on one of BA’s new 777-300ERs. That was not only a new aircraft type for me, but it also included the airline’s new World Traveller Plus premium economy seats. I’m probably the only person who would ask for such a downgrade since they would have put me in Club World otherwise, but BA kindly obliged… and more. When I received my confirmation, they had bumped me up to First Class for the return. That report will come later this week. Today, let’s talk World Traveller Plus.

The first thing I did was go online to get seat assignments. In World Traveller Plus, it was going to cost me GBP32. With plenty of seats on the seat map, I opted to wait until check in. At exactly 24 hours prior to departure, I went to check in and it didn’t work. A quick shift from Chrome over to Internet Explorer solved the problem, and I found that I had already been placed in the exit row window.

With my boarding pass in hand, I didn’t bother to go to the airport early. World Traveller Plus has no lounge access, so I would just be sitting around. I walked into the airport 70 minutes before departure and found we would be leaving from gate 138. Ugh, the dreaded bus gates at Bradley.

Our Bus Boarding Gate

It took me awhile but I pulled up into the loft over the bus gates and surveyed the scene. I hadn’t flown to Europe during the summer for quite awhile, and I quickly remembered what I’d been missing. Down below was a sea of teenagers, most heading back to Italy in a group. They had clearly had a great time in the US and just about every single one had a designer Dodgers and Lakers hat. (Our economy thanks you, but your economy might need it more . . .)

July 31, 2012
British Airways 278 Lv Los Angeles 340p Arr London/Heathrow 10a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 138, Runway 24L, Depart 12m Late
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate C?, Runway 9L, Arrive 8m Early
G-STBC, Boeing 777-36NER, BA Flag colors, ~99% Full
Seat 22K
Flight Time 9h33m

The gate agents started preboarding and then allowed First and Club World passengers to board. At that point, they started to board by rows from the back. That means World Traveller Plus is the last one on, but when you’re using buses, that’s the best position you can have.

They called my name to the podium to scan my passport since I checked in from home. I’m surprised they don’t just do that while boarding but maybe that slows things down too much. After that, I got on the bus and we were soon at the airplane.

Crammed on a Bus to Board

After walking through First Class and Club World, I found my seat. My first thought? Major disappointment. Yes, it was an exit row window … without the window. And I love my window. (SeatGuru failed big time here.)

The exit row is actually pretty awkward. Where the window should be is instead my “seatback pocket” with safety cards, barf bags, magazines, etc. These are also for the person on the aisle so it can get a little uncomfortable with people reaching over. The closest I could get to an actual window was to lean forward and look out the half window that was in the exit door. At least I had legroom for miles, even though I’m not that tall so it didn’t really matter.

Big New Screen

As is always the case with exit rows, I had to put all my stuff up above in the bin but there was plenty of room. The first thing that jumped out at me once I sat down was the impressive inflight entertainment system. The new Thales system called High Life by BA has a big, clear screen with an awesome moving map that lets you control what you and from what angle. I found out later that this particular aircraft is the first one to have received the new moving map software – the others will follow.

The armrests are certainly wide enough so nobody has to fight and there is a little mini-table for a drink in between the seats. The seat itself was pretty comfortable with wings as a pillow and an exit row-only mini leg/footrest that I figured I’d try once in the air. Each seat had a functional blanket, a pillow, and a little amenity kit with the basics.

Simple World Traveller Plus Amenity Kit

We pushed back late but the reason wasn’t entirely clear to me why. We got into the air and I realized quickly we were going a different way. We turned right, and that meant we started heading straight up the Central Valley in California, finally cutting over the Sierra and making our way north through Idaho.

Soon after takeoff, I started to explore. First, I tried the seat out as best I could. It does not recline into itself so you do need to be mindful of people behind you. But the seat itself was really quite comfortable.

World Traveller Plus Row

I quickly learned, however, that the legrest and footrest were just about useless for me since I’m taller than 4’10”. The only way to really get any value is if you kick your feet up and then you can use your lap as a flat surface. It’s not helpful for sleeping by any stretch. This setup is unique to the exit row. The other seats in the cabin have no legrest but instead have a footrest that comes down from the seat in front. These appeared to be better positioned than the ones in the exit row.

Dinner in World Traveller Plus

Paper menus were handed out with our food choices (beef or risotto). Club World has four meal choices, and two of those are picked to offer to World Traveller Plus as well.

I started playing with the inflight entertainment system. That new software upgrade I talked about also included seat to seat chat, something I’ve always found uninteresting. But I thought I’d try it. There was one chat room with anyone in it. I went in and the first thing I saw was “bieber.” And so ended my great experiment with the chat room. But there were all kinds of movies, music, podcasts, games, etc. I only watched one movie but I could have been happy for days.

Food came and it was served all on one tray with the foil still on top. There was a small green salad along with a tasty beef filet and some overdone potatoes. There was desert as well, but I passed. My hope was to get some sleep since I needed to be functioning when I arrived. That didn’t happen very quickly.

Our trays were left in front of us for a long time, well after everyone was done. I assume this was because they were serving the entire economy section but it was rather annoying for those of us who needed sleep. Finally, when my tray was cleared, I went to get ready to sleep.

Even though there was a bathroom right in front of me, I wasn’t allowed to use it because that was for Club World. I had to go back through the first economy cabin to find a bathroom and it was a madhouse back there. Kids were just hanging out in the aisles talking to each other loudly. Just getting through the cabin was a massive effort. Ready to go, I came back and put my BA-provided socks on, slipped on the eyemask, and turned on some music. Oh, and I popped an Ambien. It didn’t work.

Sleeping the Best I Could

It didn’t help that the crew left the cabin lights on for quite some time. At least I had an eye mask. But more than an hour went by before I could get comfortable enough to fall asleep and I did find myself in a lot of different positions. At one point, I had my head covered by the blanket, leaning forward resting on my TV screen (faithfully recreated above). Another time, I had slipped all the way down where my body was basically hanging off the end of the seat into the exit row area. At some point, sleep finally took hold, and I’d say I got a solid 4 hours with an extra hour or two on either side that was at least close to something resembling sleep.

World Traveller Plus Breakfast

About an hour and 15 minutes before arrival, they brought us a box breakfast that included a pound cake and a probiotic yogurt. As a bacon sandwich connoisseur, I was bummed to find that while dinner is the Club World meal, breakfast is the coach meal. No bacon sandwich for me.

What was particularly strange about the service was that there was no drink service. We were just given the boxes and that was it. The woman next to me pressed her call button but nobody came. Finally, she grabbed a flight attendant who was passing by and got us our tea. In fact, there was very little service in general on the flight with just a couple of passes the entire time.

Soon it was time to land, and despite the captain’s assurance that there were no delays, we did have to circle a little as expected. We landed and parked at the new T5C concourse. I realized I hadn’t been given a landing card so I asked. The flight attendant told me they had already handed them out. (No they hadn’t, as my seat neighbor confirmed.) How annoying.

It was time to prepare for the big immigration nightmare that had been talked about for weeks. It didn’t exist. There were a ton of immigration podiums staffed and just about no line at all. Piece of cake. I sailed through and, without any lounge access, made my way to an out of the way bathroom to freshen up for the day.

I’ll have my review of the stellar return flight soon.

[See more photos from my trip to the Olympics]

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