Suite escape: A review of British Airways' Club Suite on the A350 from London to Dubai
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[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="85" ground-experience="5" cabin-seat="22" amens-ife="11" food-bev="23" service="24" pros="Great new hard product that can finally compete, excellent food and a lovely crew." cons="Smallish mattress pad, and the slow pace of the meal service could be problematic for some passengers." /]
The TPG teams on both sides of the Pond have been closely following the development and launch of British Airways' new business-class product, the Club Suite, first installed on the newly delivered Airbus A350-1000 aircraft. However, we Brits have been waiting for the launch of this new product with even more anticipation.
I was lucky enough to be on board the inaugural flight from London (LHR) to Madrid (MAD) as BA began to stretch the A350's legs on this short route, allowing crew to familiarize themselves with the aircraft.
That hop to Madrid was not quite enough to really test the product properly, and there was no way I was going to miss the first long-haul flight in the Club Suite. The original inaugural route was meant to be a transatlantic hop to Toronto (YYZ) in October, but the schedules were bumped up and Dubai (DXB) was loaded up as the first flight.
Cash tickets were available for around $2,300 round-trip in business class, or for as little as $1,100 for a ticket that included one way in business and the other in economy. The seat can also be booked through the British Airways Executive Club for 50,000 (off-peak) or 60,000 Avios (peak) one-way and $390 in taxes. However, in the reverse direction from DXB to LHR, the taxes drop to $245.
If you're using miles to book BA flights, availability is usually quite good, though of course the steep taxes are a big downside to booking awards. If you would like to use your miles, though, the good news is that Avios are easy to come by, as the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. This means that if you were to sign up for a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you'd be able to earn the miles required for a peak-season itinerary such as this one just with the sign-up bonus, which is currently offering 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
The Club Suite costs the same as the existing Club World business-class product but, as I would find out, is far superior to its predecessor. Because of that, it's worth keeping an eye on which routes and times BA operates aircraft with the Club Suite so you can really maximize your experience on board.
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The check-in desks for BA's Club World are in Area G of Terminal 5. Heathrow felt rather peaceful on the morning of my flight, but the actual Club World check-in desks weren't. There were banks of self check-in machines where I was able to print my boarding pass.
Though I was not checking in a bag, looking at the queue, there was probably a 10- to 15-minute wait to get to a desk to drop bags off. Other desks in the airport looked quieter, so there didn't seem to be much advantage to the business-class option.
Business-class passengers are invited to use the fast track security lines, but again, I'm not sure this saved me much time. Only one of the two X-ray lanes was open, which led to hefty queues. I think time may have been saved by using the Fast Track queue at the other end of the terminal. It's so far away from the premium check-in desks, which means its less likely to be busy.
British Airways business class and Executive Club Silver card-holding passengers, along with Oneworld Sapphire members, can use three lounges in Terminal 5.
The Galleries Club North and Galleries Club South are in the main terminal building, and tend to be rather busy. As my flight was departing from the B satellite gates, I chose to head over to the B gates Galleries Club lounge (dubbed a "hidden gem" by our very own Daniel Ross).
Even though it was approaching midday, the breakfast offering was still available in one area, with more lunch choices around the corner, but generally the food looked just OK. I had little time to spend in the lounge, and after checking in with the spa and finding out that the next available treatment would be too late for me, I headed down to the gate.
I arrived at the gate to find the absolutely gorgeous A350-1000 looking resplendent in the London sunshine with her wing tips, adorned with the BA motif, curving up to the heavens. She really is a beauty!
Boarding was orderly, with separate queues for each of the boarding groups. I noticed the ground staff actively policing the queues to ensure everyone was where they were meant to be. There was a bit of a wait on the jet bridge, mainly because I got a bit too excited making my way to the plane and took perhaps a few too many photos in the process. So, many of the non-AvGeek passengers (understandably confused by my excitement) skipped ahead of me.
Overall, the business-class experience on the ground was not bad, but on the other hand it didn't feel particularly premium, with longer than necessary queues at each step, average lounges (although the B Gates lounge is definitely more pleasant than the others) and hot jet bridge waits due to a lack of a separate jet bridge for premium passengers.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="22" tpg-rating-max="25" configuration="1" configuration-2="2" configuration-3="1" width="21" bed="79" lavs="3" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
I boarded through door 2L to a warm welcome by the crew, who pointed me in the right direction towards my seat.
The cabin looks sleek and smart -- indeed a great place to spend seven or so hours, and leagues ahead of the existing Club World cabins.
I made my way to my seat, 4K, which was set up with pillow and blankets, and settled in.
There are 56 business-class seats on this aircraft, split across a larger cabin and a minicabin with just three rows behind that. The seats are set in a 1-2-1 configuration, meaning each has direct aisle access.
Thanks to the reverse herringbone configuration, those seated at window seats will actually have a view out the window -- a real win for AvGeek-view lovers like me.
The seats in the center section (E and F) face slightly in towards each other, making them a good option for couples traveling together, but they also feature a dividing screen, which should deliver a degree of privacy to solo travelers. If you're traveling alone, though, your first choice should definitely be an A or K seat. There isn't a huge difference between the seats in the main cabin, so picking any one of the rows between 3 and 8 would avoid the most disturbance from the galley and toilets. That being said, there isn't a huge disadvantage to seats near each end of the cabin.
I'm undecided about the mini cabin at the rear. I sat there for a few minutes to get a feel for it. While it did feel more exclusive -- some may even say "cozy" -- it also felt a little bit claustrophobic. I think this will come down to personal preference but I'm leaning towards the larger, brighter, more spacious cabin.
The seat itself is rather lovely. It is a Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat, which is used by many other airlines such as American, Air Canada and even Qatar on some of its aircraft, except this one features an all-important door, officially making this seat a suite.
From my experience, the effect of the door is felt less when sitting than when lying down. With the seat in the fully flat position, you do feel fully enclosed, and you can't see much of what is going on around you. On a long overnight flight, this would be very conducive to a good nights rest.
Having the door closed while working and watching movies also added an extra element of privacy, but I actually preferred having the door open during these times.
The seat features a number of storage options. There is a small well close to your knees that happily houses water bottles or amenity kits.
There is a storage section in at arm level at the side of the seat which also contains the remote control for the IFE, along with a universal plug socket, the headphones socket and two USB ports.
Another screen sits slightly below this allowing control of the seat itself,along with light and service buttons.
Finally, there's a small cupboard at shoulder height with a vanity mirror with a rack for magazines and the safety card just above that.
The seat boasts plenty of legroom. In fact, there's more than I would need. I could barely reach the foot rest when the chair was in the upright position. However, the footwell itself is quite small. It wasn't a huge issue for me, since I'm on the smaller side, but if you have big feet and legs, you'll likely feel a little cramped.
There are two overhead lights at each seat, and a reading light above the shoulder, but notably no personal air vents. The cabin was very hot when we boarded, but it quickly cooled down, and I didn't notice any temperature issues during the flight.
The tray table slides out from underneath the IFE screen. It can both be folded in half and extended out to double its size. Once extended, I love that you can slide it back up halfway to be able to get in and out of the seat. The table's size is more than adequate for all eating and working -- it fit my 15" laptop nicely.
The chair converts into a fully flat bed at the touch of a button -- I did a full recline after the meal service.
The White Company bedding is soft and comfortable. However, the same mattress pad from the "old" product is still here, and it really is a little too small. It gets eaten up by the new seat, which is much larger at the top. The pillow, however, is large and very comfortable.
There wasn't much time to snooze on this flight, and I need to try this out on a longer overnight flight to really be sure, but the seat did feel a touch tight around the feet. I sleep in a fetal position which works better, but if you sleep on your back, have big feet and are a bit of a wriggler, you might struggle.
There are three lavs available for use by business class passengers. The loo closest to my seat was at the front, and at times a bit of a squeeze past the busy crew in the galley to get to. The toilet was run of the mill, with no special features other than nicer White Company hand wash and hand cream.
One notable negative in the cabin is the very narrow aisle. I would much rather have a narrow aisle than a narrow seat, and I probably wouldn't usually spend as much time chatting or standing in the aisle like I did on this flight, but it was difficult for two people to pass each other.
I actually met one of the product designers of the suite on board this flight, and he confirmed that even on the wider 777, the narrow aisles will remain, but the console by the seat will gain a few inches in width, giving passengers a little more space.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="11" tpg-rating-max="15" screen="18.5" live-tv="No" tailcam="No" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
The usual White Company branded Club World amenity kit was provided. It contained lip balm, moisturizer, a relaxing pulse point roller, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, eyemask, eargplugs and a pen. It was everything you really needed for a seven-hour flight, and the bags themselves are handy and smart looking.
The headphones are OK. They're not noise cancelling, but they are comfortable. My first pair were not working properly, so they were replaced.
As mentioned above, the bedding is provided by White Company and is of good quality -- especially the large pillow.
The IFE screen is large and clear and there was a wide selection of movies and TV programs for me to choose from, including some good new releases. I didn't have enough time, but "Aladdin" is on my hit list! I did, however, watch a couple of the short documentaries that celebrate 100 years of BA, and actually managed to cry my eyes out two minutes into a five-minute show about the Concorde. True AvGeek tears of happiness and nostalgia.
A moving map is available, but sadly no tailcam. I find it a little bizarre that BA didn't add the tailcam for passengers, especially after visiting the flight deck at the end of the flight and seeing the screens showing the images from the tailcam. Why do the pilots get all the fun stuff?!
I fired up the Wi-Fi around twenty minutes into the flight. It's disappointing that the packages are sold by data chunks, not by time, as I would usually buy a package to cover the entire length of a flight. The available packages were:
- 25MB for £4.99
- 75MB for £11.99
- 150MB for £17.99
I went for the 150MB package, and although not cheap, it was fast with download speeds of 2.44mbps meaning a 5MB file would download in 19 seconds.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="23" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals="2" champagne="Champagne Canard-Duchêne Brut NV; Champagne Besserat de Bellefon Grande Tradition Brut Rosé NV" dine-on-demand="Express option" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Shortly after boarding, pre-departure champagne and water was served, and menus were handed out. It was just a water for me at this stage, but it was nice to know that had I have been in the game, Champagne was there for the taking.
About 20 minutes after takeoff, drinks orders were taken. I went for a tomato juice. I made my usual plea for tabasco, but forgot that there's no first-class cabin on this aircraft, so the crew were not able to nick the bottle of spice which is usually kept all the way up front! There was no stirrer, so the last gulp was rather "Worcestershirey," but I'm a brave boy, and I managed it without a wince.
To start, I had the Severn and Wye Scottish smoked salmon with egg and creme fraiche, which was simple and delicious.
The main course was a grilled chicken. It was moist and in a delicious fragrant Middle Eastern sauce, with roasted vegetables (not my favorite, but these were actually OK) and freekeh, which again was very tasty.
I was torn on dessert but finally settled on the warm mixed nuts and dulce de leche flan, which was more of a tart, but beautiful nonetheless. I washed it down with a cup of peppermint tea.
All in all, the lunch service concluded around three hours after takeoff. It was quite drawn out, but actually in a nice leisurely way. I wasn't left untended to, however I would be interested to see what would happen if I was in a rush and requested a quick dining experience -- would I be served quick enough on this aircraft to keep me happy?
Midway through the flight, Magnum ice creams were handed out, but with my Invisaligns firmly back in place, I had to decline!
The Club kitchen was also set up after the lunch service with the usual assortment of drinks and snacks. It's a nice touch, but perhaps could have been set up a little earlier.
Ninety minutes before landing the crew took orders for the second meal service. The tapas option was never going to cut it for me, so of course like the good English lad I am, I went for the traditional afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones and English breakfast tea.
The sandwiches were small but tasty and the scone was soft, light and fluffy, but could have been warmer. The presentation of this smaller meal was very nice, and it was the perfect pre-landing snack.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="24" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="No" turndown-service="No" /]
This was no ordinary flight, and the service that I experienced on it reflected that. I'm almost certain that the crew were hand-selected for this flight, so we were really treated to the best of the best. This crew really didn't falter anywhere.
An example of the efficiency and helpfulness was when I first plugged in my headphones and discovered that one ear was not working. I asked a passing crew member if they could help me, and without even a blink, I had a new working set plugged in, as well as a check-in about five minutes later to ensure everything was OK. It was a very minor thing, but it was sorted so incredibly quickly and with no fuss. It is the little things like this that leave an impression.
As mentioned, the meal service was slow, but I enjoyed the leisurely pace. My slight concern is whether it would have been possible to pick the pace up should I have needed -- or wanted -- to.
Overall the crew couldn't have been more professional, kind and helpful, with an element of British cheekiness that isn't for everybody, but that I personally love.
Flying for a solid seven hours proved this seat to be a comfortable and well-designed product. The Club World soft product, save for the small mattress, really shone when matched up with this much-improved hard product. With excellent food and top notch service, the Club Suite came into its own and has brought British Airways' biz class into the modern age.
Full judgement will have to be reserved until I've tried a proper overnight jaunt, but I would certainly not hesitate to fly the Club Suite again, and I may even be flexible on my upcoming destinations, just to get on this baby another time!
All photos by the author.