REVIEW: British Airways Club World – Keeping calm amidst the turbulence
Since 2005 when British Airways held the top spot on the Skytrax International Airline rankings, the carrier’s position has tumbled to no. 40 – that’s below Delta airlines and Jet Blue! Plagued by legal issues, labour problems, the grounding of the Concorde, and rising cost of maintaining an ageing fleet – not to mention skyrocketing fuel costs, the brand’s value has taken a nosedive in recent years.
What was once a great airline with a long history of flying to India (Calcutta a prime hub among landing points) has resorted to cheap tactics to extract money from passengers as plummeting job satisfaction among cabin crew members is reflected in how customers are treated. In July, following a decision to outsource some 700 IT jobs to India, the airline suffered what CEO Alex Cruz called a “catastrophic” power surge that shorted the entire network, leaving 300,000 passengers stranded at airports around the world!
BA’s India problems did not start this year: the carrier stopped flying to Calcutta in March, 2009. Having first touched down in the city in 1920, ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’ had a fulsome relationship with the city, maintaining 3 flights per week, which included Dhaka in the mix. However, low profitability caused by having to slash prices due to increased competition – and lack of corporate business class travellers led to the airline flying away for good. Now, the best route for Calcuttans is to fly to London via New Delhi on Air India. It’s a route proving to be quite popular and well-regarded.
So, it’s no wonder that with an infusion of capital from its merger partner, Madrid-based Iberia, the airline aspires to reposition itself among the best carriers by pumping £400 million into improving its Club World business-class product. As part of this, in September the airline began offering revised dining options and in October launched a partnership with The White Company, allowing passengers to enjoy the brand’s bedding and amenity kits on board.
As the airline undergoes this transition and these changes were billed to be nothing less than ‘sweeping,’ we thought that a review of Club World on BA for the many business travellers in our readership, would be informative and timely. We chose Hyderabad, which gained from Kolkata’s loss with mainly full flights departing almost every day. So, what follows is the 787 service from London to Hyderabad.
Not having a First Class ticket, we didn’t qualify for the iconic Concorde lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. The next best thing for a business traveller is the Galleries North Lounge where World Traveller Class is admitted. While there are far superior lounges across Europe on other Airlines, the BA lounges at Heathrow offer a good four-star hotel experience. Onn thing is clear: The old silver and gold points cards still matter.
Having been in BA lounges over the years, after perusing the buffet, one thought crossed my mind: “it used to be better.” Unfortunately, this is one refrain you are likely to hear from experienced BA Business and First Travellers. Get used to it, and it won’t bother you.
The food, both a selection of salads and coleslaw as well as hot meals like spicy Moroccan beef, a red Thai chicken curry, a spinach & mascarpone penne pasta, vegetable curry, baked potatoes, and beans as well as also soup, rolls, crisps. Trying a selection (except the beef of which I don’t eat) I found the fare to be reasonably pleasant, and it’ll be sure to fill you up if you intend to eat before lift-off and sleep on the flight. If you intend on trying the in-flight meals, you’d best to stick to breads and cheeses. You can’t really go wrong and the carb-protein mix will digest slowly over the flight. In such situations, I avoid salad in case it’s been sitting there too long. Nothing worse than serial visits to aircraft toilets no matter how swanky the seats are.
here are a selection of beers, wines and spirits available as well as tea, coffee and soft drinks.
If you want champagne, you’ll have to ask. That said, it’s worth the asking. If you want refills, I suggest striking up a nice rapport with the server. The days of flowing self-service bubbly (“Oh…don’t bother, just give me the bottle”) are decidedly over!
BOARDING AND SEATING
Priority check-in and boarding still seems to work pretty well, and Heathrow has fast-track security check for Club World (Business) and First Class passengers.
Once on board, you’ll get a pre-flight drink. If you missed the champagne at the lounge, here’s an opportunity to get some reasonably good stuff. But the fruit juices are refreshing, too. It all depends on your disposition. A friendly purser took my coat and asked what I’d like: “The bubbly, of course,” I replied. I declined the hot towel. Honestly, I rarely ever find them ‘refreshing,’ though airlines do provide them to enable grubby travellers to wipe their hands and face. He left a packet of nuts with the drink, which has become all too standard.
I wish more airlines would take the approach of Porter Air – they give out packets of veggie chips. Not only is this allergy-friendly but the light crispy chips go well with any beverage. In fairness, apparently, BA will be offering a pack of pretzels with the welcome drink and a selection of breads and cheeses from the galley. I look forward to experiencing this change!
One of the nicest updates of Club World in BA from the 747 and 777 is the size of windows in the newer plane. The larger windows offer great views, especially on clear days/nights – as though designed with the smartphone camera in mind.
BA’s Club World on the 787 is oriented in a 2:3:2 configuration, which is a step down from airlines like Qatar, Emirates and Lufthansa. But the orientation makes it seem not so cramped, and it’s an improvement on the 777’s 2:4:2 seating architecture. That said, the seats are comfortable. Seats will recline to a full flat bed position and the new bedding offering by the White Company makes getting a restful sleep a distinct possibility. The window seat offers the most privacy. It’s laid out in a way that makes it almost its own private (albeit somewhat narrow) cabin. I generally try for these seats not only because of the privacy but also because I snore – and loathe to be woken up by another passenger who feels it’s ok to poke me when I’m sleeping just because there is another noise above the roar of the engines. To all such ‘pokers’ in the world, I say, “Put on your earplugs or noise cancelling headphones, and don’t touch me, damn it!”
All Club World seats on the British Airways 787 offer a consistent measure of comfort, with a seat pitch of 72 inches (182 cm) and a seat cushion width of 20 inches (50 cm). The angle of maximum seat recline is 180 degrees, and the overall length of seat when fully reclined (and when tilting the separate foot rest) is a 6ft (183cm) flat-bed. It also has a reclined Z position for relaxing and watching films. Next to the seat, you can find the seat controls, the entertainment controls, a reading light and a power port.
A constant problem with the seats in Club World are the fact they are so narrow. If you are sitting in the aisle seat you are likely to be knocked by passers by or the trolley if a limb falls into the aisle and you will feel exposed to a large enough extent that it might affect your sleep.
The wifi in cabins is much less reliable than the high speed connection available in the lounge. That’s to be expected. Sometimes it won’t work for long stretches, which is frustrating. Other airlines have better such facilities.
One plus of BA over other airlines is the cabin temperature, which being on the cool side, at least for me, is ideal for getting some sleep.
With munchies and small meals available at self-serve Club World Galleys, you’re likely not to go hungry even if you fall asleep during the meal service. Kids can gorge on chocolates but beware at 40,000 feet, they may become ill for it.
BA to its credit, still offers lamb. I recall eating lamb in Economy before they started calling it World Traveller – but those days seem long gone.
There was a spinach pasta in a cream-based sauce and side-salad was offered to vegetarians for lunch. For dinner, spicy vegetarian fare was served available for those herbivores with a decidedly Indian oriented palate. Dinner consisted of ellu sadam, vegetable korma and vendakkai varuval (V) (sesame rice, vegetable curry and fried okra). I asked a co-passenger about the meal, and she said the Indian was reasonably good but the soggy overcooked pasta had passed al-dente before take-off. The Indian meals are apparently catered by The Taj in Hyderabad. Hyderabad boasts among the finest of Taj hotels with the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi dining with Invanka Trump at the Taj Falukanama Palace, last Decemer for the Global Economic Summit. So, Indian travellers are likely to be satisfied with the spicy options
I skipped lunch but for dinner started with salmon and fish mousse roulade with potato and spring onion salad; the other appetizer was Mozzarella, basil and tomato on pita bread with arugula pesto and olive tapenade and grilled courgette on creamed leaks with tarragon vinaigrette
The main course choices were: Pan-fried fish fillets with cream sauce, new potatoes with parsley and seasonal vegetables; and Stir-fried lamb and peppers with nei choru (lamb peppers and rice sautéed with onions, cashews and spices). The lamb on BA is still quite good, and as someone ordering the Hindu meal, it was refreshing to have a red meat option on the table that wasn’t beef.
I always try to wake-up for breakfast. I’ve had one bad experience when some kind extremely hot saucy thing was wrapped in a Chapatti and given to me as a breakfast sandwich in World Traveller class some years back. Generally, the British breakfasts are particularly good, especially in Club World. A choice of egg per your choice with bacon, pork sausage, potatoes, a variety of cheeses is offered. There is even delicious smoked salmon available on most Club World flights. I went to town, building my own breakfast sandwich with bread, chease egg and pork sausage; so, so satisfying!
IN FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
BA has historically had good options in IFE. This hasn’t changed. The airlines provides a private screen, noise-cancelling headphones, two USB sockets, power, and a video RCA connection for your camcorder, DVD player or camera.
The private screen is larger when compared to that of BA’s older planes. It swings out from the side of the private cabin suite. It also tilts up and down, so watching the screen from the near or fully flat-bed position is perfectly possible.
India flights offer movies and TV shows in local languages. You’ll find new releases in films alongside decent television both British and American. However, the sheer volume of options available on an airline like Emirates makes the BA IFE suite seem somewhat limited. My suggestion if this occurs: try the wifi, and if that doesn’t work, order some premium champagne, slip on the earplugs and eye shades from the amenities bag, and try to get some shut eye. More so than other airlines, the temperature of the plane and comfort of the new bedding elements make sleep a good option.
Having flown Business Class on British Airways for many years – even the during the glory days when there was a direct London-Calcutta route, I conclude that, save for technological improvements such as availability of wifi, increased In-flight-entertainment options, charging docks and the option of using one’s own headphones rather than the clunky ones historically provided, not much has fundamentally changed but definite improvements have been made.
That isn’t bad. British Airways has always had high standards in premium classes: great food, service to match; comfortable seating that can recline to enable sleep. These are all still as good if not a little better than before.
That said, as with most facets of hospitality, enjoyment is often measured against expectations. If one has flown on Emirates or Qatar in Business Class, BA will seem like World Traveller Plus, plus a little a more, rather than a true premium class experience.
BA is in the process of rolling out true restaurant dining like Lufthansa and other airlines, and the configuration of seating could be improved. We got a sampling in transition but not the full treatment. Still, I was pleased that the service cart was not relied upon too heavily.
Lastly, what used to be a delightful experience interacting with cheerful staff, pleased to be working for one of the World’s best airlines is now not quite as cheery. A fog hangs over BA service because for the most part, the staff is insecure, for the future is uncertain for BA and Britain even, post-Brexit.
So, if you travel with BA, you are likely to have very pleasant flight, and arrive at your destination well-rested and well-fed. If not, I suggest you do what Brits have done for centuries: keep calm and carry on!