Aircraft Type: B747-400
Class: “Club World” Business Class
Date: October 2014
Best for: UK based travellers who travel a lot, who can benefit from frequent flier perks.
Most likely to sit next to: On this route, expect NY-LON travellers, who take the trip as much as they would a Taxi, nothing phases or surprises these über-travellers.
Business or pleasure: Still no Wi-Fi yet, but times are changing. This is more about pleasure
Routes: For such a large airline, the carrier is continuing to grow, the business class product, (which is quite unique) is identical throughout the long haul fleet, making for guaranteed comfort.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Avios / Executive Club, known by many names, but a very powerful frequent flyer programme due to the spend power on any oneWorld carrier.
Best bits: Seat, improved service and wine list
Worst bits: The forward/backward seating configuration is still a little bit awkward with the game of ‘who-raises-the-partition’ first.
British Airways B747-400 Business Class Report
On our way to the SkiftForum in New York in October, we were lucky enough to be invited to experience BA’s ClubWorld. Whilst we were excited to experience the 787 on our return flight, sadly, the aircraft rotation on the day meant it wasn’t to be. Instead on our return flight, we experienced the 777 cabin, which was a delight in itself. This report however, on the way out, was on one of BA’s fleet of many 747s, whilst we have experienced both Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and ClubWorld before, this was the first time we had time on our side to experience the whole experience in a non-rushed way. Our tip is do the same, give yourself plenty of time in the airport to experience the terminal itself, the expansive lounge (and spa) and have enough time to settle yourself into your seat. (especially with Gate to Gate viewing now)
On the Ground
Travelling with British Airways you don’t get access to chauffeur service – they did trial it a few years ago using London’s finest black cabs, but the experiment was short lived. This doesn’t really matter though, as Terminal 5 in London Heathrow has a wealth of parking options, as well as being well connected to the city by tube, Heathrow Express and if need be, taxi (although expect to be anxious about making your flight if you opt for this route.)
On entering Terminal 5 you can’t help but be in awe of the expansive space, unobstructed by pillars or non-aesthetically-pleasing support structures. The terminal seemingly oscillates above your head, and as you enter, you are greeted by a wall of check-in counters. As this is purely a British Airways terminal, you can check in at any desk. To the right of the check in area is the impressive first wing, which sits alone, clean and modern in appearance, with the speed marque sitting proudly above the area in chrome. One thing we found a little confusing was where the business class check in area was, as this was poorly sign-posted. For those looking for it, head to zone H. We found the signs afterwards around the area, but this wasn’t very clear to someone new to the ClubWorld experience.
Unaware of the dedicated check in zone we checked in at one of the regular check in counters, we were still pleasantly surprised, no queue, and a friendly face greeted us. They were knowledgeable and helpful, guiding us to the quickest security checkpoint (The southern checkpoint) After a matter of minutes we were checked in and through a very efficient security scan which considering the peak time of day (7am) was both impressive and welcome.
Once through security, the terminal was fairly empty, and the sense of space was evident, we weren’t the only ones taking photos just after security of the architecture before them. There is a big similarity in the design concept at both Terminal 2 and Terminal 5 in London, and considering the master plan for the airport, you can see the design ethos that we should expect as travellers over the next couple of decades at Heathrow.
The Galleries lounge, whilst next door to the security channel, was only accessible after defending a level through the shopping precinct and doubling back on yourself, to enter the lounge area. Heading up through a pair of escalators framing an iconic sculpture – a giant bean shaped sculpture with occasionally fluttering silver discs. On the first floor is the Elemis Spa, as well as First Class lounge and exclusive Concorde Room. On the second level, flanked by Moooi black horse lamps, is the expansive business class lounge. Our tip is on the way up to the lounge, make your booking at the Elemis spa, and opt for the express facial, as there can be a limited amount of availability.
Inside the 2nd floor lounge, you are treated to a huge floor, filled with unique seating environments, from more relaxed to formal seating, office space to cafe space and even a quiter movie zone, where you can enjoy a big screen away from the crowds. When we arrived there was a selection of breakfast options on offer in the lounge, including bacon sandwiches, porridge pastries and fruit. WiFi was fast and service was excellent. Even putting the concierge team to the test by requesting a different seat in the cabin, and this wasn’t a problem for them in the slightest.
After taking our time to settle in and partaking in the complimentary champagne (you may not see this in the self service area, but find a waiter ask ask for it in person, it’s perhaps the worst kept secret in travel, but still, for those that don’t know… now you do) we headed back down to the Elemis spa where we were greeted, sat next to a warming fireplace and prepped for our speedy 15 minute free treatment. Having the mens facial was excellent in our view, once sat in the treatment room, we were told the seat was going to measure our spine. Unsure what that meant at first, we were suddenly reclined, then pummelled and stretched by one of the best massage chairs going. So we ended up getting spoiled with 15 minutes of massage and a facial that refreshed and hydrated the skin for the flight ahead.
The announcements in the lounge are silent, so you are on your own to try and work out when to make your way to the gate. We were situated on one of the satellite terminals meaning we had to take one of the connecting trains, which allowed us to experience more of the breathtaking architecture.
On arrival at the gate, we were quickly whisked aboard, timing our arrival perfectly, boarding approximately 30 minutes before scheduled departure. The plane was evidently full, which apparently is fairly standard for this flight, due to it’s excellent departure time (8:30am). It’s one of a dozen flights that BA and partner American fly between the cities every day.
On arrival into the cabin, you are greeted by a impeccably dressed and smiling crew. The 747 is a beautiful aircraft, and we still get excited boarding the ‘Queen of the Skies.’ Admittedly, you can now start to see the age of these birds – mainly in the storage bins, highlighted by the modernity of the cabin finishes on offer in BA’s 787, new 777-300s and A380. But what is still impressive is how smart the ClubWorld seat units look. Still standing the test of time, at over a decade old. The cabin is a myriad of interlocking seats, with walls, seat directions and bulkheads breaking up the space, making it look much less like a conventional cabin, and making it look like a social space of interlocking chairs.
The cabin is also finished with a variety of textures and light fittings, that make the space more residential, and less aeronautical. A large swash of wood veneer with backlight and illuminated speed marque take centre stage in the cabin space, and act as a focal point and mood light point in the cabin. The panel is supported by other key lighting points in the cabin, that have a residential feeling. The space is all about diffused light, and to be honest, comes into its own when in the sky.
We know that some of the 747s are going through a refresh, and we hope that some time will be spend in the premium cabins too, perhaps even replacing the overhead bins to help modernise the space. That said, the 747s offer a sense of space especially on the lower deck which is very nice for a passenger. The cabin also continues to offer more detail the longer you spend in the space, inclusive of herringbone fabrics, rich carpets and textured paper lights.
Taking an aisle seat (17G) was one of the best options on the 747. The front row of the rear main deck cabin meant that we didn’t have any passengers traipsing over our legs to get out of the central seats. The seating configuration means there is an even split of forward and rearward facing seats. The rearward facing seats are by the window and in the centre of the cabin, the forward ones are all by the aisles. Trialling both, they both have their benefits, our tip is if travelling as a pair, try the middle backward facing pair, and ideally at the very last row, whereby you have private access into the suite.
The seat itself, which has been around a few years, has a variety of seating positions and configurations depending how you utilise the fold down foot stool, which can be raised and lowered and also angled, to help create the ‘Lay-Z’ configuration, which is ideal for resting, relaxing and watching movies. Each seat is wider around the body area, thanks to the forward/rear facing combo, and these seats don’t suffer from the foot-coffin that other carriers offer. Between each seat is an automated screen which is lowered for take off, and can be raised and lowered by either seating partner, or by the cabin crew. If travelling alone, feel free to raise it, to remove the awkward occasional catching-the-eye of your fellow passenger.
The seat has a wealth of ambient lighting, including a discreet reading light and table light which activates when the table is down. The table itself is large and sturdy and can be used as either a cocktail table or full table. There is a small design flaw here, with the table extended and fully away from the occupant, the footstool will knock the table when its stowed away, meaning the possibility of a careful choreographed manoeuvre when food or drinks are served.
There is a good sense of space in the seat, and the seat controls are fairly straightforward, although for those wanting to get the most of their seat, there is a large seat instruction manual that will give you all the benefits of the Club World seat.
Storage isn’t an issue either, with the overhead bins both over the centre and the windows, but for smaller items, there is a pull out drawer situated on the floor level, underneath the TV, which can store most items. Coats are taken on boarding, meaning that all your items are cared for.
On the 747 the screen and AVOD is of the older variety, compared to BA’s sparkly new 777s. However, as we mentioned before, BA are installing newer AVOD on some of their 747 fleet mid next year. That said, the AVOD still has the same content, and with the screen situated in front of you, courtesy of the fold out screen, the size and response of the system isn’t a big issue. Although the 777s noticeably offer better quality viewing. It’s great now that BA are one of the airlines that allow you to start watching TV as soon as you are in your seat, only being interrupted for the safety video, meaning for more entertainment during the flight.
There is also a basic entertainment controller situated by your shoulder should you wish to control the screen or play on the systems games. As for reading materials there is a wealth of literature available in the cabin, including daily newspapers, but the highlife magazine is still a very good read – this month, a great illustrated cover drew many people to pick up the magazine. For those feeling a little more spend happy – the Shop magazine has a good collection of quality items for sale.
British Airways offers a decent menu, with multiple choices for both starters and main course. Although the flight took off at 8.30am, the airline served a lunch, which roughly one and a half hours after push back, was well timed. Before that, nuts and pre-dining drinks were served. The wine list onboard was excellent, and by far one of their strongest elements. The cabin crew also seem very knowledgeable on the product on offer. The airline uses a trolley service rather than at table service, but this does mean for a slightly quicker delivery. When it came to dine, starters included Bocconcini mozzarella and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, a fresh seasonal salad or the Pork belly and Prune Terrine with picked turnip, spring onion and walnuts, which we went for, and was absolutely delightful.
Main courses included Seared Fillet of British beef with mediterranean crust and chorizo potato cake, North Atlantic cod with saffron and sultana sauce with vegetable tagine and couscous, the vegetarian course was a beautifully fragrant risotto of pumpkin, oyster mushroom, ginger cinnamon and sage. We opted for the ‘Classic’ dish of the British beef, which was tender, succulent and perfectly cooked and had terrific flavour.
The food was fresh, tasty and the salad was a treat to taste, a usually overrated side dish, was almost an entree in itself.
After the main course, there was time for dessert, and recommended to us was the chocolate and orange Mogador with orange sauce, which was amongst the best desserts we have had in the skies.
After the main meal service, there was a Club Kitchen service, which offered a variety of snacks and drinks available to business class passengers whenever they wanted. Opting for Ice cream instead, we tucked into a pot of Ice Cream Union vanilla ice cream and a cup of hot black coffee – which came with a couple of Hotel Chocolat nibbles too.
Just before landing, the cabin crew offered an afternoon tea, which bar the presentation (in sealed plastic wrapper) was tasty and perfectly balanced. A selection of sandwiches featuring chicken Ceaser, Scottish smoked salmon with creme fraiche and mozzarella with roasted tomato mayonnaise were presented, followed by a basket of scones which were served with clotted cream and strawberry preserves. The scones were so good, we forgot to take a photo!
British Airways Club World offers a standard mix of extras to their passengers. As well as noise cancelling headset, oversized pillow and blanket, they also offer ear plugs and eye masks, which come separately to their Elemis amenity kits, which are slightly different depending on the sex of the passenger. The mens kit offers lip balm, moisturiser and shave gel, along with socks and dental kit. There was also hot towels to start the service, and Elemis products in the washrooms.
The Club World 747 may be an older product, but it still serves its purpose. It’s a strong, comfortable and successful product that has helped to lift the carrier’s image in the past decade. It’s a pleasure to still fly on, and the cabin crew seem as enthused now as they did when the product first came out. Whilst the 747 Club World seat might now start to show its age compared to the sparkly new 787, A380 and 777s, the carrier has invested into renovating the fleet will see the seat through a few more years to come. The testament to the success of a product was when we landed in New York. Feeling refreshed, at ease, and disappointed the flight didn’t last a little longer. Perhaps next time, we’ll have to travel further afield with this proud national airline.