A look back at Club World on British Airways’ 747
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Editor’s note: This article has been edited from the original. During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we have resumed the publication of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown.
This week, British Airways made an announcement that, while not necessarily surprising, deeply saddened those on our team and AvGeeks around the world. The airline will retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft “in the coming months,” ahead of the original timeline it had announced, which would have seen BA’s Queen of the Skies flying until 2024.
To celebrate this magnificent aircraft, we’re republishing a review done by TPG UK’s Nicky Kelvin on board the upper deck of the 747-400 in one of the plane’s most iconic liveries.
I’ve traveled plenty with British Airways, and have learned to set realistic expectations for each flight I take with the airline — especially in business class. The hard product itself is undoubtedly dated and gets less competitive by the day. The soft product, while certainly improving, can be hit-or-miss, especially on the service front.
So, on yet another transatlantic hop for TPG UK-related travel between London and TPG‘s home office in New York, I was eager to give BA’s Club World another go, on one of the most iconic and beloved aircraft ever, the Boeing 747-400. I was able to grab a seat on the upper deck, too, which got the trip off to a good start.
Then, the question became: Would the rest of the experience let me down, or would BA show me what it could really do and nail the flight?
Nonstop, round-trip flights on Oneworld carriers that operate the London (LHR)-to-New York-JFK route (American Airlines and British Airways) can cost anywhere from $2,500 all the way up to about $8,000. On the day I needed to travel, they were clocking in at the higher end of that spectrum. Thankfully, though, there was availability through BA’s Avios program. With around 15 Oneworld flights between London and New York every day, Avios availability tends to be easier to come by across the booking classes than on other popular routes.
We paid 50,000 Avios plus 430 pounds ($560) for the one-way business-class flight from London Heathrow to New York Kennedy. We paid for the steep taxes and surcharges with The Platinum Card® from American Express, in order to take advantage of the card’s 5x bonus on airfare purchases directly with the airline. Considering the high price of cash tickets on the route, using miles saved us heaps of cash, though it’s never easy to swallow the fees on award tickets leaving from or connecting through the UK.
As a British Airways Executive Club Gold cardholder, I can check in at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 via the fancy and exclusive-feeling First Class Wing, available to first-class passengers, as well as BA Gold card and other Oneworld Emerald cardholders.
The ground staff welcomed me to the entrance of the First Wing and ushered me almost immediately to a check-in desk. There were a number of people in the area, but this section has a large number of check-in desks, so it would have to be incredibly busy for a wait.
Check-in was quick and friendly, and I proceeded to security. The First Wing has its own security lane that leads directly into the BA Galleries First Lounge.
Security was relatively busy, but most passengers here looked like regular business travelers and were lighting-fast with the laptop-and-liquids procedure. I cleared security in less than five minutes, and then took the private walkway from security, tipped my hat to the BA horse and entered the lounge.
The lounge had its usual morning buzz, but there were still plenty of places to sit. The lounge has various places to relax and eat.
I checked out the Scotch on offer at the entrance (though it was definitely too early for samples!) and headed to see the food and drink offerings.
A breakfast buffet was being served, with pastries and the components of a hot, full English breakfast on offer.
I instead ordered from the lounge menu. Any staff member would take your order and deliver food directly to your seat, but you needed to be proactive in getting their attention.
I took my favorite seat out on the balcony and ordered the kippers (for those who are unfamiliar, kippers are whole herrings that have been butterflied and smoked) and poached eggs. It’s my morning staple in this lounge, and if you have the stomach for lightly smoked kippers, it’s delicious! I had to order toast separately, and I made my own cappuccino at the self-serve machines.
We boarded our 20-year-old Queen, which was delivered new to BA in 1999, through the C gates at Terminal 5, which required a short shuttle train that passed under the apron.
Boarding was orderly, and I boarded first, again taking advantage of Gold status.
Cabin and Seat
The crew greeted me and pointed me up the stairs. I had booked Seat 64K on the upper deck of this Boeing 747-400, which is really the place to be — there are just 20 seats in a 2-2 configuration up top, while the remaining 66 Club World seats on the lower deck are arranged in a tight 2-4-2 configuration. The number of seats made it feel like a private jet and set apart the Club World product, which often seems so lackluster compared to other airlines’ business-class products. This really was the bee’s knees!
64K felt very private, was rear-facing and was tucked away at the back of the cabin near the stairs. It had direct aisle access via the footwell, and the bulkhead provided an element of coziness. Any concerns I had about proximity to the toilet or the galley proved to be unfounded. The seat is actually quite a distance away from these, even though you are facing them.
There was ample legroom (more than my little legs would ever need), huge amounts of storage with the addition of the side bins, and a power socket.
In general, Club World lags behind the competition, but the seat still goes all the way flat, and British Airways now provides White Company bedding, which includes a thin base mattress (a bit of a waste of time, since it needed to be much thicker), two separate blankets (both felt luxury) and a soft, comfortable pillow.
Generally, I found the seat quite comfortable for sitting, working, eating and sleeping, although I would have been a harsher judge without the benefit of all the side space on the upper deck, where the storage bins were.
The lavatories were tiny on the upper deck and took some real maneuvering to navigate. That being said, they were clean, functional, and had nice White Company hand wash and balm.
Amenities and IFE
The White Company also provided the amenity kit, a small black zip bag with lip balm, moisturizer, an applicator for essential oils, socks, eye mask, toothbrush, earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste and a pen (sadly, unbranded).
Nothing magical, but then again, everything you might need, and a handy, smart bag to use afterward.
The inflight-entertainment system was quick and easy to use, with plenty of choices. The 747 features an updated version of BA’s IFE — the screen is bigger, certainly newer and offers a more solid tilting mechanism than on many of BA’s other aircraft.
I watched “Love, Simon” and managed to cry my eyes out multiple times.
I found the new map system quite clunky and unsatisfying, I’m definitely a fan of the old-school style of moving map. The plane supposedly had Wi-Fi, but it didn’t work each time I tried.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Champagne, orange juice and water were all offered shortly after boarding in proper glasses, and because of the 8:30 a.m. flight time, I opted for water.
Menus were handed out and orders quickly taken before takeoff. To start, I chose the energizing smoothie, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and pineapple carpaccio with granola. Breakfast was delivered quickly, and all of my starter choices were delicious, in particular the pineapple carpaccio, which was a thoughtful twist on a breakfast dish.
I followed up with the Belgian waffles, which were soft and soggy and really not appetizing, although I was full after the preceding course — it was only gluttony and curiosity that drove me to put the waffle order in!
I stood true to my British values and managed at least five cups of tea during the flight, which were great. I always worry teatime might be ruined by that “old teapot” taste, especially on an old aircraft, but here it was spot on.
Around two hours before landing, afternoon tea was served. It was nice, especially the coronation chicken sandwich which was tasty on soft bread, and the scone, which was warm and crumbly. More tea followed.
With a hard product that frankly doesn’t come close to its competitors, BA really needed to nail the service aspect. On this flight, the crew did not fail. Clare and Natasha, who looked after me throughout the entire flight, were truly exceptional. They had almost 50 years’ experience with BA between them, and their friendliness, professionalism, speed, cheekiness and proactive approach were perfect.
I always like to engage with crew. I find them fun and interesting and the best way to pass the time, and I was glad to have found a couple of mates who also kept me fed and watered. Combined with the sense that you were in a small private cabin, the flight felt special from start to finish.
On a different day, downstairs with a British bulldog throwing your dinner down on your tray table, this might not have been so fun, but all-around incredible service, a great seat on the upper deck and a good food offering made this flight an absolute winner. When BA gets it right, it gets it so right. If the airline could combine the level of service I received with a new, competitive hard product, it really could have a shot at reigning supreme in the transatlantic skies.
All images by the author for The Points Guy.
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