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For the return flight home from their trip to Madrid, TPG Contributors JT and Katie Genter flew in British Airways’ 777-200 Club World business class from London Heathrow (LHR) to their hometown of Austin (AUS). (All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.)
After a wonderful week and a half enjoying Christmas and New Year’s in Spain, it was time to return home and to work. While we weren’t looking forward to leaving after our great experience in British Airways Club World on the outbound leg, we couldn’t wait to try out British Airways’ business-class product again. Here’s a review of our return trip, booked as part of an excellent British Airways Club World sale fare offered last fall.
Scheduling and Aircraft
British Airways started the London (LHR) to Austin (AUS) route in March 2014. Since then, the carrier has flown three different aircraft types on the route, starting with a 787-8 Dreamliner — which Katie reviewed in economy last fall — before switching to this 777-200 for just a few months. Now, British Airways is flying a 787-9 Dreamliner on this route and I’m hoping we’ll be able to review that for you soon as well!
No matter the plane, British Airways has generally kept a similar schedule: Depart LHR around 11:30am, arrive at AUS around 4:15pm; depart AUS around 6:20pm, arrive in LHR around 9:25am. This out-and-back timing certainly seems to prioritize getting the AUS-LHR leg into LHR in time for passengers to catch connecting flights to the rest of Europe.
Meanwhile, the 11:30am departure time from LHR is a great pick if you’re returning to the US from a trip to London. But, if you’re connecting through LHR to catch this flight, you’re going to need to catch a very early flight to LHR — especially since connecting in LHR can take some time.
In order for us to catch this British Airways flight, we woke up at 4:05am to hop a 6:55am flight from Madrid (MAD) to LHR. With the time difference between Spain and the US, it made for a very long day.
Transfer and Lounge
Our flight from MAD arrived at 8:38am. Thanks to the small amount of connecting flights — and the Fast Track lane available to Oneworld Sapphire & Emerald members and business or first-class passengers — we were able to clear through the entire LHR Terminal 5 transfer and security system by 8:56am. However, the process can take much, much longer at busier times of the day or if you don’t have access to the Fast Track lane, so plan accordingly.
Our quick transfer left us about an hour to enjoy a lounge before we’d need to head to our gate.
Since we’d tried the Galleries Club Lounge South on our outbound connection through LHR, we checked out the Galleries Club Lounge North this time. The lounge itself was smaller, but offered a rather similar experience in many ways — except that it’s much easier to get to from the terminal. Rather than having to journey up a series of escalators, it’s located on the same floor as security.
We grabbed cups of coffee and tea at one of the self-serve stations as well as some fruit and pastries. We chose a couple of seats at the glass counter next to the large glass windows looking over a runway, and enjoyed watching a continuous stream of planes land on the soggy runway.
One noteworthy thing about these BA Gallery Club Lounges: They’re quite self-serve. There were plenty of lounge attendants around to make sure there’s enough food and supplies out, but only the front door and showers had any sort of attendant you’d interact with. While this didn’t bother us in the least, if you’re hoping to be served drinks and food — or even have a bartender mix you a drink — you’ll be disappointed.
At 10:11am, our gate was finally displayed on the departure board with the note that said “Go to gate.” We promptly followed the instructions and headed toward the Terminal 5C gates. Once at our gate, the display instructed us to “Please take a seat.”
Boarding began 41 minutes before our 11:30am scheduled departure, starting with the pre-boarding of a family with small kids and an elderly lady. From there, boarding quickly advanced to First and Club World passengers.
Along the long jetway to gate C52, there was a newspaper rack available for anyone who wanted to pick up some reading for the flight. One thing that was noticeably absent from the boarding process was the secondary security screening that we’d grown accustomed to when flying back into the US.
The 2-4-2-arranged Club World cabin was nearly fully booked and quickly filled in.
The 777 Club World cabin seemed to have a yellow tone, similar to our upstairs cabin on the BA 747 on our outbound flight. However, strategically placed light fixtures transformed the look from an old cabin into a classy one, making me wonder if the yellowish look was intentional, rather than being due to age.
The window seats certainly provide a lot more privacy than the aisle seats. When the divider is up between the seats, you pretty much have your own mini-suite.
Since they’re squeezed between the window and the seat divider, the window seats can feel rather narrow and aren’t as easy to get in and out of. This is especially true when the passenger sitting in the aisle of the row behind yours has their footrest down, as you have to climb over their legs to reach the aisle. Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend window seats for passengers with limited mobility.
For couples seeking privacy together, the backward-facing middle seat pair is a great option to sit side-by-side. Alternatively, you can sit next to each other in the pair of seats on the window side and easily talk with the divider down. If you’re sitting next to someone you want to talk to, there’s no requirement to ever raise the divider.
At each seat, there was a modestly-thick mini-pillow, a plastic-wrapped blanket and a plastic-wrapped headset.
One thing definitely lacking in these seats is a convenient place to store service items and trash that accumulates during the flight. On the BA 747, the window storage bins were invaluable for having all of your cabin baggage easily available and a place to store stuff temporarily. This was certainly lacking on the BA 777. There’s minimal storage space at each seat, so I stowed my essentials in the drawer near my feet and my cabin bag overhead.
The tray table folds out from the seat divider and glides along a track to your desired location. Note that it isn’t supported from the window-side — I found the tray’s wobbling somewhat annoying when typing on my laptop.
We pushed back almost exactly at our departure time of 11:30am. However, Heathrow was both rainy and busy, so we didn’t lift off until 25 minutes later. We quickly found ourselves in low-hanging clouds, so we weren’t able to enjoy any views of London.
The flight attendants passed through the cabin with a choice of orange juice, water or Champagne around 25 minutes prior to departure.
About 10 minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants passed through the cabin with warm towels. After collecting the towels, they passed through again with Club World amenity kits (more on that below).
The cabin crew was noticeably younger than the crew that had served us on the BA 747. While the 747 crew were probably in their 40s-60s, most of the crew on this flight were in their 30s-40s. One of today’s cabin crew members explained that the 747 FAs have “been around for 100 years” and serve on solely long-haul flights, while today’s crew was a “mixed crew” that does both short and long-haul flights.
In addition to being young, some of our Club World crew were rather new, with one mentioning that he started less than two years ago. This gave the cabin a much more energetic feel than you’d get from an older crew on US-based carriers, where the mostly senior crew tend to get priority on the long-haul flights — especially in premium cabins.
Drinks and Dining
The first drink service reached my seat about 40 minutes after takeoff. After trying the Taittinger Brut Reserve as my welcome drink, I asked for the Champagne de Castelnau Brut Rose for my first drink. I was playfully warned by the flight attendant that this drink was “dangerously good” before I was served a rather full glass of it. It certainly lived up to the hype. Drinks were served with bag of mixed nuts containing pleasantly salted roasted almonds and cashews.
The flight attendants passed through about an hour after takeoff to take lunch orders or confirm orders for those of us who had pre-ordered.
The starters were a choice of “Seared curried scallops with cauliflower puree, Oscietra caviar and raisin chutney” or “Butternut squash carpaccio with Rosary Ash goat’s cheese, pecan and cranberry salad, pumpkin seeds and a Port, honey and sage dressing.” However, only the scallops option was left by mid-cabin. This was fine with us, but a vegetarian sitting in the back of the cabin was understandably disappointed that she was left without a starter.
The main course was a choice of:
- Seared fillet of British beef with artichoke and truffle risotto, purple sprouting broccoli, baby onions and roasted garlic jus
- Roasted corn-fed chicken with dauphinoise potato, caramelized carrots, chicken and apricot stuffing and onion marmalade jus
- Egg noodles in a coconut and lemongrass broth with mange-tout, pak choi and peppers
- Chilled main course salad of roasted Shetland salmon with farro, black beans and fresh pomegranate and mint molasses dressing
We had pre-ordered the beef and the chicken on the British Airways website a few weeks before our flight. When passing through the cabin to take orders, the fight attendant confirmed our choices with us — seemingly allowing us to change our order if we wished.
All choices came with a “Fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette.” For desert, there was a choice of “Chocolate and hazelnut délice” or “Cotswold Brie and Barber’s Cheddar cheese served with spiced mulled apple jelly and biscuits.”
While lunch was cooking, the flight attendants passed through the cabin again to offer drink refills.
Starters were served about an hour and 15 minutes after takeoff. Main dishes were served from the front of the cabin to the back as they finished cooking. There seemed to be at least a 25-minute difference between when the front and back of the cabin were served.
We recorded a 10-minute difference between when Katie — sitting just a row in front of me — was served her main dish and when I received mine. Katie’s main dish arrived 34 minutes after her starter and my main dish arrived nearly 45 minutes after mine. Desserts took another 20-30 minutes to be served.
In total, meal service took about 1.5 hours from starter to the collection of the very last plate. If you’re anxious to complete your meal quickly and get to work or sleep, make sure to grab a seat in the front of the cabin. Or, perhaps you can ask if the crew can expedite your service.
Between meals, the Club Kitchen was open in the forward galley. There, you could grab chips, candy, biscuits, fruit, nuts, sandwiches, desserts, ice cream and various other snacks. I tried the crew-recommended Island Bakery Lemon Melts. While they didn’t live up to the “irresistible” description on the packaging, they were quite tasty. For drinks, there was a selection of canned Coke products, multiple wine bottles, Champagne, bottled water and juices.
Crew also passed through the cabin regularly with trays of water and orange juice, with other drinks available upon request.
For Afternoon Tea, (aka second lunch) we had a choice of sandwiches or a salad. I ordered the sandwiches, which were three mini-sandwiches: (1) Egg Mayonnaise & Spinach, (2) Pastrami & Mustard Mayonnaise and (3) Prawn & Lemon Mayonnaise. All three were served plastic-wrapped together, so this choice wouldn’t be suitable for anyone with an allergy to any of the ingredients.
Katie chose the salad option for her Afternoon Tea. It ended up quite similar, just with a salad replacing the mini-sandwiches on her plate.
Similar to our experience on the BA 747, the amenity kits were soft fabric draw-string bags containing Elemis items.
The bag contained:
- Pro-collagen marine cream ultra rich (skincare)
- Skin Nourishing hand & body lotion (bodycare)
- Minty moisture lip balm
- A pair of socks
- Eye mask
- Plastic-wrapped earplugs
- Plastic-wrapped pen
- Plastic-wrapped toothbrush and toothpaste
- Elemis card with “During Your Flight” tips (and advertisements)
The bags were fastened shut with a plastic tie and the individual items were sealed with tamper-evident seals — I waffled between finding these tacky and hygienic.
I found the socks to be a bit awkward, as they were produced straight, rather than curving at the ankle. While this was clearly designed so that they were one-size-fits-all, this made them less comfortable than they could otherwise be.
The bathrooms also contained Elemis items like foaming soap, liquid soap and hand lotion. Interestingly, there are cups in the bathrooms. I did confirm with the crew that the water is potable — which isn’t something that I’ve noticed on a plane in quite a while.
Similar to the 747 Club World seats, the in-flight entertainment screen folds out from the seat divider. You must push a button to release the screen and then fold it out toward you. Unfortunately, my screen locked in its extended position during the safety video, and it took some brute force by the flight attendant to properly store it before takeoff. This locking issue would repeat each time the screen was extended, but at least I learned to force it as they did.
The screens are touchscreen, but sometimes required a firm touch. There was also an extendable remote — stored in the seat divider near your shoulder — which was useful for browsing or changing channels.
There were no Wi-Fi options on this daytime transatlantic flight, so you may want to avoid this aircraft if you’re reliant on staying connected for business.
The headset plugs were unique in British Airways Club World: The provided headsets had two prongs, but not the same-sized two prongs. The plugs are designed so that you can plug the provided headset (or your own) into one of the two types of plugs.
Entertainment options included movies (35 new releases), TV (news, comedy, drama, factual, music & the arts, sports and Skyflyer Kids), audio, games, Your Journey and High Life Preview.
I enjoyed the raunchy humor of Amy Schumer’s new HBO stand-up special, and — while walking around the cabin — I noticed many others in Club World were watching the same program. This either speaks to Amy’s broad appeal or lack of other appealing options.
On the audio side of things, I was a bit disappointed to not find a mix by British electronic group Above & Beyond as Katie has found on other BA flights. There were plenty of other options and the high-quality headphones made listening to any music I chose an immersive experience.
When lining up for our final approach, I realized with curiosity — and I’ll admit, a little trepidation — that we were lining up on AUS’ shorter 9,000-foot runway. Considering that this 777-200 is one of the largest commercial planes to arrive in AUS, I figured that we’d surely use the longer 12,248-foot runway. Thankfully, we landed and stopped with plenty of space left on the runway.
Curious about this — and what seemed to be a “near miss” with a DHL plane while at cruising altitude — we asked the cabin crew if we could approach the cockpit to inquire. Once at the cockpit, the captain welcomed us warmly and was remarkably knowledgeable and forthcoming about all of our questions. We left very impressed with her friendliness and the time that she happily took to talk with us — both were well-beyond what basic customer service could be expected from the flight crew.
Although we arrived at the gate 20 minutes before our scheduled arrival time, we ended up having to wait for our bags for nearly an hour. As members of Global Entry, we were able to use the nearby kiosks to clear customs while we waited, so it took us less than five minutes from our bag dropping from the chute to exit.
I’d been wondering if our great BA Club World experience on the outbound was a fluke, but this was another great experience. The cabin and flight crew were incredibly friendly and attentive. The food was delicious and well-presented and the seats — while not spacious or particularly new — were flat, long and wide enough to be comfortable. The 10-hour flight flew by much faster than we expected, and we were rather sad to have it end when we started to descend into Austin.
On the downside, the long service times during meals and sub-par entertainment options were a disappointment. Also, I can understand other reviewers’ complaints about the tightness of Club World. The cabin felt much more crowded, and these seats certainly felt more snug than the 747 upper-deck window seats due to the lack of space between the window and seat divider.
Overall, we enjoyed this flight and I’m looking forward to experiencing British Airways Club World again this June.
British Airways Visa Signature® Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Balance Transfer Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||16.24%-23.24% Variable||$95||See Terms||Excellent Credit|