It’s been a couple of years since British Airways and I first tried to set up a trip to see the airline’s new Terminal 5 at Heathrow and now, it’s finally happened. I have plenty of cool stuff that I’ll post here in the next couple weeks, but for now, let’s start with the trip out in Club World, BA’s business class. This trip was provided by BA without charge.
BA was the first to put a flat bed in business class, and after a refresh 5 years ago, it’s still a good product today. My one complaint? The storage situation around the seat could use some serious help.
January 16, 2011
British Airways 278 Lv LAX 355p Arr London/Heathrow 10a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 120, Runway 25L, Depart 7m Early
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate 546, Runway 27R, Arrive 20m Late
G-CIVS, Boeing 747-436, British Flag colors, ~99% Full in Back, ~75% in Biz, ~50% in First
Flight Time 10h
Though I had checked in online and had my boarding pass, I still decided to arrive two hours early. No need. I cruised through security and found myself in the oneworld lounge at Bradley in just a few minutes.
This lounge is new and is a huge improvmenet over the old one. I remember flying BA back in 2002 during the first big winter rain that year in LA. The old lounge was leaking live a sieve and it was dark and overcrowded. This one is bright, though oddly long and narrow, and had a nice, mellow vibe.
About an hour before our flight, they called boarding so I headed down to the overcrowded gate area, a hallmark of the Bradley Terminal. The new Bradley Terminal project is now well underway and it towers over the existing boarding gates.
I hopped onboard my second 747 in a month and I was surprised to see this one looking a bit tired. The seats were in good shape but there were scuff marks that showed these seats had been around for awhile. The traditional yellow onboard lighting probably didn’t help either. (BA is getting mood lighting on its newer deliveries.)
I took my seat in the last row of Club; the best seat I could find since there were no windows available upstairs. The reason I like this seat? It faces backwards but there’s no seat behind so you have more privacy and it’s easier to get in and out.
After sitting, my coat was taken and I was asked if I wanted any newspapers or pre-departure drinks. I just had water and sat back to explore the seat.
The first thing I found was the serious lack of storage. They put a laptop drawer at the bottom right, but that’s hard to access from the bed or reclining positions. And that’s the only storage spot around. There’s no place to rest your phone, a camera, a book, etc where it’s easy to access.
Soon we were pushing back for departure and the captain told us it would be a long crossing thanks to light winds. Not bad since I could use some sleep.
I started off watching a movie and then dove into dinner. The smoked salmon appetizer was a fantastic start. I opted for a cold chicken salad with garam masala and mango chutney for my main course, and it was good but nothing overly special. Then again, I’m not a big airplane food guy anyway. After a sad looking cake dessert (which tasted better than it looked), it was time for bed.
Since I can’t sleep on an airplane, “bed” means Ambien. So I got comfortable, popped a pill and hoped I could fall asleep. It turns out, I had one of those restless sleeps where you aren’t quite sure if you’ve been sleeping or not. Delightful. But I woke up over 6 hours later and felt pretty good, so I must have done better than I thought.
The bed itself was good but it had some issues. It didn’t seem to go fully flat but then when I lied down, it pushed into position. The footrest was temperamental and a couple times during the night, it changed position on me. (Since it’s controlled manually, it was easy for it to shift.) I’m guessing these were issues specific to my seat and not the seat in general.
An hour and a half before arrival, the lights came on and they came through with fresh fruit, tea, and my favorite, the bacon sandwich. Everyone should have a bacon sandwich. (Ok, maybe not El Al.)
I filled out my landing card, got everything together and after doing a couple mandatory Heathrow holding pattern loops, we came in to land in a very dark and rainy London. We sat for 15 minutes waiting for someone at our gate, but then we were off into the terminal.
The new terminal 5 looks really nice but it’s like a maze. A lot of upstairs, then downstairs, then upstairs again. (I’ll have more on this in a future post.) Customs and immigration was easy, and then I went to the highlight of the process: the arrivals lounge.
After going through customs, you can go upstairs to BA’s arrival lounge. This large lounge has relaxation and work areas, a full breakfast bar and the shower room.
In fact, there are 94 different shower rooms, and I was given “Red 1.” The room was small but perfectly functional. I found a little door within the door where you could put your shoes and clothes to be shined and pressed. I popped them in and hit the valet button and soon enough they were whisked away.
The shower was amazing with a rainfall head and side jets to basically melt the airplane-nastiness off your body. I didn’t want to get out. But I did and my shirt and shoes were back in pristine condition. I listened to the radio while getting ready (you can pick your station in there) and then it was off to the Sofitel right next to Terminal 5 where I spent the first night.
I have plenty to share over the next week including my flight back to JFK on British Airways flight 1 from London/City Airport, so stay tuned for that.
definitely some snazzy digs in BA club world class, both in flight and landside.
at the end of the day, however, i still believe that (1) price and (2) schedule are exponentially more important factors in the purchase decision for premium class tickets than amenities will ever be. so if my thesis is correct, are these costly updates to premium seating, IFE, landside lounges, etc. worth the capital expenditures on a stand-alone basis?
i wonder if such spending is essentially a “keeping up with the joneses” thing, where BA often plays the role of the joneses (save for some of the middle eastern airlines, singapore, etc.) and other airlines are trying to keep up with that standard.
Since most of the profit on a long haul like this is in premium classes, it’s clearly worth it. Given the arm-rest race that happens in premium classes I’m sure it’s worth the capital costs. You can count on that due to airline bean counters.
i know that premium class tickets are where the airlines profit comes from but that profit is still contingent on the pricing and schedules. if the BA biz class price was $1,000 more than another airline having a similar schedule, does anybody think this stuff is important enough to offset the price difference?
i’m certainly not saying to ignore the premium sections, i’m saying that it would be interesting to weigh the costs associated with this type of upgrade against the incremental profit that such expenditures are intended to generate via increased load, increased fares, or both.
You’re forgetting one thing, though – a good percentage of these premium class tickets are for business travel where the traveler’s employer is picking up the tab. $1,000 might or might not make a difference in the world of corporate travel policy. I can’t speak for every company, but in ours, business class is allowed for international travel, and there’s a soft cap on the airfare that’s reimbursable as opposed to a directive that you have to pick the cheapest airfare/routing. Sometimes BA still shows up as “in policy” when you do a search, even if it is more expensive, which means you can book it without having any questions raised.
That being said, I agree with your premise, but for a different reason – my experience is that the choice doesn’t so much come down to the goodie bag of amenities, but to two factors: the seat (or more specifically, a seat that’s good for sleeping), and portability with your global alliance of choice. As long as it’s in policy, I’d select BA any day over someone like Lufthansa or KLM, if for no other reason that I live in a Oneworld dominated city. The fact that their product is better is gravy.
Good discussion on this. The reality is that premium cabin, long haul travel is the one place where product really does matter. Price and schedule rule the back of the bus and pretty much all flying on short haul, but the product matters a great deal on long haul and people do pay a premium. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t see airlines constantly trying to outdo each other with flatter, larger beds all the time. It wouldn’t be worth the investment. But people care, and they will pay a premium for a better product.
I can tell you that on this trip, I had no downtime at all. I landed and was going straight away. Had I not been in a flat bed, I would have had even less sleep than I got and I would have been useless (more than usual) that first day. So if the choice were to stay an extra day to get work done or pay an extra $1000, I would probably be inclined to pay more. I would definitely have paid $500 more, and I’m not a corporate account with deep pockets.
Personally I like the BA Business product. Have flown it many times now (all for leisure) and I’m happy to stick with them. I collect the miles and have now had numerous reward flights with BA in both Business and First class (my next one is in 4 weeks flying BA1 and then back on BA296 in First).
There is also the benefit that if you’re flying long haul with BA to/from Heathrow you know the product you will get – they’re not like all the airlines out there who have different products!
Mostly true, about the consistent product, except for inflight entertainment. I didn’t realize this but apparently some of the shorter haul 777s still have the old system with very small screens and looping movies instead of on demand. It’s slated to be replaced. I can’t believe that hasn’t happened yet.
1. To all people who read this blog please don’t start ragging on Brett about it being a free trip and anything he may say about BA that is positive. That is getting so old when people make comments like that. Ok you may not gripe about what I just said as you comment about this being a free trip and anything Brett says that is positive about BA…..LOL
2. I don’t think I could sit backwards on that long a trip. Three hours on Southwest once between HOU and PHX was enough. But it does look like they can jam more seats in the area which must be why the area around your seat doesn’t have much room.
3. Since BA has money woes also, could explain why the inside of the plane was a little tired looking. If anything you would think an airline would keep the inside looking fresh on planes used on key routes which LAX-LHR would be since the Hollywood elite travel that route a lot.
4. Can’t wait to hear about the return trip LCY-SNN-JFK.
I have to agree about the storage being lacking. I flew BA Club World back in Sept – JFK to LHR. While the seat isn’t a comfortable bed, it was worlds better then being back in coach. I was just sorry that the flight was so short I could only sleep 4 hours.
Cranky, how was the BA business class as compared to the Air France business class you took on your honeymoon?
BA’s biz class was far better than Air France’s. Then again, I didn’t like Air France’s much at all. I couldn’t sleep on the angled bed seat on Air France at all, and I just liked the BA service better as well. (I’m certainly more of an anglophile vs a francophile anyway, so that has something to do with it.)
(For those who care: http://crankyflier.com/2009/04/27/an-underwhelming-air-france-experience-to-tahiti-trip-report/)
I would love to fly BA across the pond but they have some heafty fuel surchages and fees. Why is that?
Here, here! I would love to use our 200K+ Chase bonus miles on BA rather than another OW carrier, but with the crazy expensive fuel surcharges and taxes, not likely. Maybe Brett asked them that very question!
I have to guess it’s because BA (and a lot of other European and Asian airlines, for that matter) still separate their fuel surcharge from the base fare in a fare display. Indian airlines are the worst at this – you see crazy stuff like a $2 base fare, followed by $75 of fees and surcharges, most of which is for fuel.
I didn’t ask about it, but flying to London is naturally more expensive thanks to some hefty fees slapped on by the UK government. As for fuel surcharges, it really just needs to be looked at as part of the base fare. Ultimately, I don’t think that’s what makes BA uncompetitive except on frequent flier mile redemptions.
I think at the time BA introduced the first flat beds they made the decision to trade off storage space for the truly flat beds and still keep a decent number of seats. I’ve flown Club World a few times and I think its a great product, the food isn’t out of the world but the seat is great and very private. In fact on a recent trip I did F outbound and J on the return and actually found the J seat to be more private than the brand new F seats. Also the BA lounges are of a very high standard, particularly compared to US lounges.
I agree that if they can get more seats in and STILL have a full flat bed, then by all means go ahead and remove the storage. Honestly, if I had a flat bed, TV, and food, I don’t know what else I would need for a 10 hour flight.
Since you’re in Club World, overhead storage shouldn’t be an issue either.
I envy Club seats as I walk back to my 31” World Traveller seats.
Thanks for this even-handed review. My take is that access to a shower room at a long flight’s end is an important considering in choosing a flight. Back in the day there was a concession called Shower Tree at many airports, accessible to all travelers, but no more…
Just wondering, though, how big the laptop drawer was. Would the larger ones fit? Would a smallish briefcase? Would there be storage space for a kindle, a glasses case as well. Are there truly no elasticized pockets or overhead bins?
I know some airports (Seoul Incheon) have free showers for all their passengers, esp transit passengers. However bring your own towel, or you can rent them for $2.
I’m surprised that many of the larger hubs don’t have this. Most people tend to think that these’d be nasty, but I took a couple of showers at truck stops when I was driving across the country. (I slept in my car to keep the cats company, and spare them and myself from moving into the hotel room, then out.) I found the showers at truck stops to be very clean, well maintained, and worth it. It’d be interesting to know how much you could charge for this service. I’d easily pay $5 many times, and there are times I’d gladly pay $10 or even $15. (Coming off a red eye in Boston or JFK with a couple of hour layover for the next bank of morning flights to go out, and having slept while it was a bit too warm for me, makes me really want a shower..)
Yeah, the showers were absolutely essential to being able to get going for a full day of work. They should have those in more places.
On the laptop drawer, you can see it open in the 4th pic from the top of this post. I have a netbook so it’s tiny but it fit with the case no problem. There was room for my glasses and camera down there, but the problem is that it’s not accessible when you’re lying down. There is plenty of overhead bin space, so when I talk about lack of storage, I’m just talking about the essentials like a book, your glasses, etc when you’re lying down. There’s no place to put that stuff.
I flew British airways a couple of years ago from Toronto to Delhi. I had a First Class seat and the onboard service was very good. The seats were extremely comfortable and I like how they make the bed for you when you are ready to sleep (now I am being a snob ;) )I didn’t have time to go and see the BA Heathrow lounge because I didn’t have time but my friends have always said nice things about the lounge. I did have a complaint about the plane though. There were scuff marks all over the plane and the carpet was showing it’s age. I am not being a stickler or a snob but if airlines expect me to pay a premium for First Class seat, they need to get the plane in order. I have never flown BA after that because there are better airlines (Jet Airways, Air Canada) now doing daily Toronto-Delhi route. I hope they have newer planes and better interiors now.
And the Air India nonstop with 34″ pitch in Y. Can’t beat that on a 15 hr flight.
The new first class on BA is being introduced now and it’s a significant improvement. I was able to see a cabin mockup with the new product and will write about it next week with plenty of pics.
I can understand the hype about the shower if you arrive at 10am and cannot check in at the hotel until later in the day, but if that isn’t the case, why bother? Just shower at the hotel.
As for the comment about “the company pays the tab” for business class: as a guy who went to medical school and law school, I guess I’m sort of jealous that premium class is compensated by Big Business…and then trickled down to the average consumer. In other words, the amateur economist in me things that if Corporate didn’t shrug off the high fares, maybe the fares wouldn’t be so high?
Or maybe I should just get a job in Corporate and…stop caring? Not my nature.
flown BA business multiple times ..
upstairs by the window is way better … you have those little side bins to store stuff in — otherwise I agree with you – good seats – not enough space to store personal stuff anywhere if you’re on the main deck ..
Yeah, I’m a window guy and when I checked in there were no windows up top, so I opted for a window on the main deck instead of an aisle up top. It’s definitely true that the upper deck has that storage that’s lacking downstairs if you’re in the window because of the ledge between the seat and the window. That’s the ideal seat.
Don’t you feel sleazy not flying your favorite LAX-LHR airline:) Just kidding.
Hah, well I think the Air NZ folks will understand. But when it’s my money being spent, that’s generally right where I’m heading . . .
I actually become jealous of the business class flyer. I am flying (when I can), on my own dime. I absolutly can’t afford the business class and suffer in coach, or as my friends put it: cattle class. When it is possible I ask for a diabetic special meal, well, I am a diabetic. Extra room would make a huge difference, but sadly I just can’t afford the cost. Saving money to pay for business class is not an option when you exist from check to check.
Just a couple of comments – and Kudos to Brett for disclosing the comp ticket. Where BA is price competitive, it’s a terrific flat bed product, and as he says, the lounges are the class of Europe. If you spend as much time as I do, you’d understand a willingness to chance BA strikes for pleasure of traveling through Heathrow T-5 (or even the upgraded BA and AA lounges in T3 – which are now complete and of comparable quality), rather than dealing with Paris (ugh!), Frankfurt (yuck!) or God forbid – Rome (worst lounges of any major city in the world).
BA’s premium products are great, but the surcharges imposed for premium class passengers which MUST be paid (even on a free ticket) are enough to seriously consider another routing if you’re paying out of your own pocket.
A tip for guests heading to Europe when you have multiple flight options – take the later flight rather than an earlier one whenever your time schedule allows. Here’s why: Generally, when you arrive in Europe, the later you get there, the more likely you won’t have to wait (or wait as long) for your hotel room when you check in. Also, the later the departure, the more likely you are to be able to get some decent sleep on your flight, regardless of what class you’re flying. After all, do you really want to leave New York at 6:00 and have dinner the second it becomes possible for them to serve? If you want to watch a movie too, then by the time you land, it’s 6 AM in London, midnight in New York, and you’ve got a whole day in front of you.
Finally, for some reason, people always seem to book those earlier flights first, and you’re chances of scoring a good coach seat are better on the later flights.
I’m off to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney next week – taking a wide assortment of carriers… anxious to try out the new Qantas business class product on their 747s AND the A-380.
I just had my first experience in the BA Club World seats a few weeks ago and was an instant convert. I agree with your comments on the lack of storage space; however, for me, the lie flat beds are huge. I cannot sleep on planes and have spent a few sleepless nights in AA business class seats which are nothing shabby, but since they don’t lie flat, I was up all night. In the BA seat I curled up and was out instantly. Amazing! I have elite status with AA but I don’t know if I want to fly them transatlantic ever again.
I also took advantage of the showers on arrival – very refreshing!
On my last trip to Europe I flew BA business (on my employers dime), and wish i could fly this way all of the time. I checked all my luggage so I didn’t even notice any lack of storage. This was also the first time a had been able to sleep comfortably on a plain, which was a great help with meeting the next day.
The only problem is now I know what I am missing when flying coach…
The lack of storage refers to near the seat (no good place to put laptop, books, etc. during the flight). There’s no issue with overhead bin storage; in fact I found there to be a lot more free space than normal up there. I carried on everything (one rollaboard, one computer bag) and there was room to spare in the bin. Probably because everyone else checked their luggage.
What does BA provide for the flat seat/bed? Sheet? Pillow? Blanket?