Has British Airways Solved the Club World Problem With the Club Suite?
Changes to the British Airways "Club World" product have been a long time coming. Major issues with the current seat left British Airways miles behind some of its competitors. The lack of direct aisle access, high density eight-across configuration, lack of storage and a lack of privacy including having to stare in the face of your seat neighbor were among some of the most highly criticized aspects.
With every new product that hit the market, BA fell even further behind — from Delta One Suite to Qatar Qsuite (even the "old" Qatar product blew Club World out of the water).
Rumors starting flying around the AvGeek communities about what a new Club World would look like, and I think most expected a jazzed up version of the existing product. Then came a questionnaire sent out by BA, which asked customers about what they would want from a new product, and the word "Suite" was mentioned. Surely not? Conservative, sensible, British, British Airways? Well today, AvGeek dreams came true. Enter, Club Suite.
The Hard Product
Has BA successfully tackled all of the huge criticisms fired against the existing Club World product?
Direct aisle access
In the vast majority of Club World window seats and in the middle pair of seats, you're forced to clamber over your neighbor to get out to the aisle. It's annoying in the day, and an incredibly awkward maneuver at night, where getting out without touching or disturbing someone who is lying down and sleeping is almost impossible.
With a 1-2-1 configuration in Club Suite, every single seat will now have direct access to the aisle. This is a huge win for window seat fans like me, who can finally enjoy the views and not have to worry every time the bathroom calls, you need a stroll and stretch or to fetch the USB wire you left in your bag as you watch the battery drain from your phone.
Lack of storage
There is little to no storage in the existing seat, aside from an almost useless pull-out drawer, and no flat space to put anything. But BA says that the Club Suite will have 40% more storage including three smaller storage areas above the seat, water bottle storage and storage under the ottoman. There is also a significant amount of flat storage space.
I like to have all my bits and pieces around me on a long flight, and the addition of this useful space is a huge improvement for the traveller who doesn't want to be in and out of the overhead bins constantly or pull the tray table open in order to put anything down.
Much like direct aisle access, the improvement in privacy is an enormous leap forward. The Club Suite will have a door that closes manually (all but for a one-inch gap), and no more facing your neighbor, as is the existing reality.
My personal preference in the daytime is for a more open feeling, and I would likely leave the door open. But for nighttime and sleeping, the advancement is likely to allow the majority a much sounder night's sleep. It will also be more conducive to work and relaxation, should that privacy be your preference. It's yet to be seen the effect that the doors will have on the feeling of space and light in the cabin. The Qsuite setup, for example, has a rather negative effect on these factors, and the lack of natural light carrying through the cabin is noticeable.
I have spent far too many times desperately trying to catch the end of a movie in a Club World seat, craning my neck to watch the screen, which had been popped back in place, ahead of the IFE being switched off.
That situation is no more, with BA offering gate-to-gate entertainment and a screen fixed in front. It remains to be seen whether the screen is easily viewable from all of the available seating/sleeping positions. In addition, as screens across the market improve, I have become acutely aware of certain IFE screens that produce an unbearably fuzzy picture. So high definition screens — this one being 18.5 inches on the A350 — are also a welcome addition.
The seat itself
The seat is wider by around seven inches when in the sleeping position, and longer by approximately five inches. And when it comes to seats and beds, bigger is always better. I have never found the existing seat too small, although at 5'8" I'm not the best test subject (calling Brian Kelly!), but I did often feel the need for more width on the seat when trying to sleep. This is one aspect that I will have to hold out on giving the full verdict yet because comfort, the most important aspect, needs to experienced first hand.
However revolutionary this new product is, a slow rollout will be a surefire way to dampen any excitement. With four A350s due to be delivered by the end of 2019 and two Boeing 777s to be retrofitted with the new product, you're unlikely to be enjoying the new Club Suite anytime soon — unless you're going out of your way to hunt it down. Even on the first long-haul A350 routes, Toronto and Dubai, starting in October 2019, not every flight to these destinations will be served by this aircraft.
BA has not put a timeline on the rollout, so we can only hope that it proceeds at lightning speed. For the average passenger going about your usual flying business, you may not come across the Club Suite for a number of years. For the dedicated, however, BA will begin flying between Heathrow and Madrid shortly after delivery for the purpose of crew familiarization, and satisfying curiosity will be possible soon.
It could be said that an airline is only as good as its worst product, and catching the "old" Club World on a flight in 2024 could become a real issue for BA in trying to keep its customers happy.
First Class Is Dead; Long Live the Suite?
The question we're now asking of BA is: What is the future of first class? Arguably, the new Club Suite improves on the BA first hard product. The additional privacy and sliding door in particular are features that BA first misses on, and it's not beyond comprehension that certain passengers may actively choose to fly the Club Suite instead of paying more for what could be considered an inferior and aging product.
British Airways believes that the additions and improvements to the first-class soft product will continue to set it apart in the future. But, I'm not sure soft product tweaks can really carry the overall product, taking into the account the potential large premium on the cost of a first-class ticket.
In the world of British Airways, the Club Suite is truly revolutionary, but more than that, it seems to be a product that can truly compete on a global scale against some of the world's best airlines' business classes.
BA has not just tackled all of the biggest complaints with the current product, but has gone above and beyond with a product that seems genuinely revolutionary for the airline. The reveal has the TPG team incredibly excited. What remains to be seen is the comfort of the seat/bed, which I for one cannot wait to try out.
All photos by Nick Morrish/British Airways.