Though I was sad to leave my beloved Dublin this week after a fantastic birthday weekend, I was definitely looking forward to flying home to Miami since I was booked to fly via London Heathrow on British Airways in Club World business class. While not the newest product in the sky and one I flew several years ago, I was looking forward to trying it out again to compare it against American’s new 777-300 business class product which I flew to London from Miami.
You can book US to Europe (and vice versa) on British Airways for 62,500 AA miles each way in first class, and 50,000 miles each way in business class and a quick search showed scarce availability throughout April and May, and again in October. I wanted to use my British Airways companion pass, but no outbound flights on BA existed for my trip, so I had purchased a coach ticket and used an EVIP to upgrade on American Miami-LHR and then purchased a coach Aer Lingus to Dubin flight. For the flight home a British Airways award opened up so I was able to book using 50,000 AA and $303. Not cheap, but still beats paying business class prices or even World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and upgrading using Avios.
My DUB-LHR-MIA itinerary in business class would require 59,000 Avios, but awards seem to be extremely scarce throughout the spring, summer and fall. In fact, the only award I could find for the whole month of May was on May 8, 2014, for 59,000 Avios + $264.
Dublin’s DUB airport is already efficient, but thanks to my business class ticket, I got through the expedited security in just about no time. The British Airways Lounge at DUB is the generic DAA airport lounge and it is extremely basic, so I’d actually rather spend time in the airport’s Terminal 1, which has good shops (like a bookstore, a Boots pharmacy and even a Guinness Store) and lots of restaurant options (including Caviar House, The Garden Terrace and a food court).
When I fly business class in Europe, I always try to snag the bulkhead for extra knee space; other rows are basically coach with a middle seat blocked out. This Airbus 319 had 16 seats in business class (four rows of 2 seats each – though again, there are really 3 seats with the middle one blocked out) and just one main purser working, yet they managed to feed us a hot breakfast on this 50-minute flight – more than what most 3-hour flights provide for passengers in the US! It was just a basic English breakfast with sausage, but it still hit the spot.
At Heathrow, I arrived at Terminal 1. My connecting flight to Miami left out of Terminal 5, so I had to take the Flight Connections shuttle, which took a hot, stuffy and annoying 15 minutes. I then had to go through immigration and security (again), but thankfully business and first class passengers get Fast Track, which makes this process much quicker. Normally, I would have been standing in lines for at least 45 minutes. For instance, my Terminal 3-to-Terminal 1 connection on the way over from Miami connecting to Aer Lingus took over 2 hours, which is just insane. After immigration you have to wait again for a biometric photo..and then do security. Wait times like this are why American Airlines will only sell flights that have at least a 90-minute connection time at Heathrow.
Business class passengers get access to the Galleries lounge, but if you’re in first class or are oneworld Emerald (as I am, due to my AAdvantage Executive Platinum status) then you can use the Galleries First lounge. (The much fancier Concorde Room lounge is only for British Airways first class passengers – but British Airways elites Gold members get access when they hit 5,000 Tier Points when flying any class of travel with British Airways or other oneworld carriers.)
The Galleries First Lounge is really nice, with good Champagne (hello, Taittinger), free WiFi, and a spa/salon with facial, massage and grooming services for men and women. Some itineraries allow Sleeper Service to maximize onboard sleeping time, which involves a meal served in the lounge, an onboard night cap, and a hot breakfast onboard (or to take away) in the morning. My 9-hour flight back to Miami wasn’t eligible for Sleeper Service, so I opted to pick up some tasty ramen at the nearby Wagamama.
I boarded my LHR-MIA leg via Gate B46 at the satellite terminal, which required taking a short tram ride. Boarding the enormous Boeing 747-400 went smoothly, and happily for me, involved climbing a stairway up to the smaller of the plane’s two Club World sections, on the upper deck:Oh, how I love the upper deck. The first time I flew it was on Singapore Airlines JFK-Frankfurt, but sadly, the airline no longer flies 747s. Even more sadly, these planes will probably all be gone sooner than later, as I lamented in my post, Mourning the Slow Demise of the 747. To me, 747s are simply majestic, even if they don’t have fancy things like showers in first class.
BA’s Club World seats were among the first lie-flat seats out there, and they haven’t been updated much since being launched in 2006. Aboard the 747-400, Club World has either 52 or 70 seats, split amongst the plane’s two levels in two configurations: the lower deck is a 2 x 4 x 2, and the upper deck always has 20 seats in a 2 x 2.
Club World seats are arranged in a yin-yang formation with seats facing each other, and each individual seat has a memory foam headrest, a quilted blanket, in-seat 110V AC power, noise-canceling headphones (though nothing like American’s Bose QC), and a smallish 10.4-inch flatscreen with on-demand audio and video. Seats are 20 inches wide, and the lie-flat recline is a full six feet, though exit row seats have more legroom due to the layout.
The product definitely needs to improve in order to catch up to other competitors, because in my opinion, the quality of the overall experience is entirely dependent on on your seat. For instance, I looked at Seatguru and chose seat 63J in the exit row to get extra leg room, but it was completely exposed to the aisle.
That said, being on the aisle allowed me easy access to overhead bins, and there was a drawer at the bottom big enough for a laptop or book. Normally, though, I’d prefer a window seat because you get the extra bin storage between the seat and the window.
An odd feature of Club World seating is that when the partition is down, you look directly into your seatmate’s eyes. Fortunately, though, the partition is only really down when flight attendants are delivering meals – otherwise, it stays up for most of the flight.
BA started using new amenity kits in December 2013, drawstring bags full of British-made Elemis products in men’s and women’s editions. My men’s version of the kit included shaving gel, moisturizer and lip balm, as well as a razor, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and a pen for filling out arrivals forms. They no longer include eye masks or ear plugs, though they are provided upon request.
Though the Club World food was nothing to rave about, overall I’d give it a solid B. Ingredients looked and tasted fresh, and everything was well prepared.
My crab starter looked and tasted good, and was accompanied by a fresh green salad.
My chicken was pretty juicy, rather than overcooked, the way I’ve found it on most flights I’ve taken. The portion was satisfying, too and the veggies and potatoes were decent though a little mushy.
The chocolate tart was pretty darn delicious, and looked like something I might eat in a restaurant, not just on a plane.
The tea-time spread about 90 minutes before arrival was decent – though nothing much to look at – and I especially enjoyed the warm scone and jam.
The Club Kitchen snack offerings (to which you can just go help yourself) were pretty carb-heavy, but you can find fruit as well as baked goods. I appreciated having some apple slices in the air, and the cookies were tasty. I certainly never felt like I was going to go hungry.
The best part of my British Airways LHR-MIA business class flight? I was able to fully stretch out and sleep for a good five hours – though granted, I was exhausted from Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities! As I mentioned above, these seats to recline to just 6 feet, but at least I had a bit of extra room to dangle my foot over thanks to the exit row.
All in all it was another enjoyable but unremarkable BA business class flight. I think I’ll try for first class awards from now on, but at least it was pleasant and got me back to Miami in the time frame I needed. Stay tuned for my business class comparison between British Airways and American Airlines – but for now, let’s just say the tides have turned with the new AA 777!
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