British Airways' Club Suites don't disappoint: On board a retrofitted 777 from London to New York
British Airways was one of the pioneers of business-class cabins and seats. However, the airline stuck with the same old Club World model with backward- and forward-facing lie-flat seats packed into dense configurations on most of its fleet for the better part of a decade.
That is until British Airways unveiled a new business-class product called Club Suite in March 2019. Laid out in a more spacious 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone configuration and with closing doors for privacy, these new stunners are far superior to British Airways’ older business-class seats.
British Airways began taking delivery of its Airbus A350-1000s with the new Club Suites aboard in July 2019. TPG was among the first to fly them on a short intra-European hop in August of that year, and we have since reviewed these gorgeous new fixtures on both the A350 and on a retrofitted Boeing 777.
Since then, the airline has been rolling Club Suites out across its fleet at pace. At this point, you can find new Club Suites aboard all the airline’s A350s and Boeing 787-10s and on an increasing number of 777s. That’s how, when I was looking at flights from London to New York late last year, I came across a well-priced award ticket and decided to test out the new Club Suite for myself.
Overall, it was an excellent experience and I would not hesitate to fly it again whenever I get the chance.
For the final leg of a whirlwind round-the-world trip last fall, I needed a flight back to the U.S. from Europe — specifically from Madrid to New York City.
Given my personal points and miles portfolio, my best options were to redeem either American Airlines AAdvantage or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles for flights on either American Airlines or British Airways.
There was an incredible amount of business-class award space on British Airways’ flights, so I went that route. For an itinerary from Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) to Heathrow Airport (LHR), continuing on to John F. Kennedy International Airport on a Boeing 777-200 with Club Suites aboard, my two best options were to redeem either 60,000 Alaska miles or 57,500 American miles plus $352 in taxes and fees. I decided to use AAdvantage miles for the slightly lower mileage price.
In comparison, if I had just been flying from London to New York, the ticket would have required the same 57,500 AAdvantage miles but with a whopping $633 in taxes and fees. So, I saved nearly $300 by taking a short hop within Europe.
While still a significant cost, airfare for the same one-way itinerary from Madrid to New York via London would have been $6,080 on my dates, so I was getting nearly 10 cents per AAdvantage mile I redeemed. That’s more than five times our current TPG valuation of American AAdvantage miles at 1.77 cents apiece.
That’s a very high price for a one-way ticket, and you can often find cheaper fares than this when booking round-trip journeys on British Airways between Europe and the U.S. Under my circumstances, however, the price of the award was well worth it to me.
My flight from Madrid arrived in London right on time, but we remained on the tarmac for about 20 minutes waiting for one of the A gates to open at Terminal 5. When one did, I was among the first passengers to deplane and I headed right for the transit security checkpoint. Luckily, I was funneled into a line where security agents were testing a new protocol: Passengers did not have to remove electronics or liquids from their bags, nor remove any of their jackets, belts or shoes.
The line moved relatively quickly and, miracle of miracles (at least in my Heathrow experience), I was not flagged for a secondary screening.
I had just less than four hours before my flight was due to depart, so I made my way to the British Airways Galleries Lounge South, which I had access to thanks to my business-class ticket. Although enormous, the lounge was absolutely packed, with few open seats. I just did a quick walk around to check out the buffet, which was also very crowded as folks piled their plates with hot and cold items.
The least-crowded spot was the semi-open-air deck facing out toward the tarmac, which had its own small self-serve bar.
Due to the crowded atmosphere of the lounge and a sneaking suspicion my flight would be departing from the B gates, I decided to take a chance and hopped on the train to the B concourse. My ulterior motive for doing so was that there's a small British Airways lounge there that's typically much less crowded, and it would mean a quicker walk to my flight.
That lounge is located toward the middle of the B terminal, one level up from the main concourse. Although there were quite a few people there, it felt much less crowded and I had no trouble finding a seat near a power plug.
The lounge has a sort of circular flow. After scanning my boarding pass at the reception desk, I veered left. I passed some workstations, a seating area and a self-serve wine bar and found the restrooms.
Doubling back, there were more seating areas with leather armchairs and wooden side tables with lamps, from which there was easy access to water, coffee and tea stations. There was another larger wine island in the middle of this space and a counter with self-serve drinks.
Continuing past there, passengers could browse a basic buffet with soup, small sandwiches and chips. Around the corner from there — running along another seating area with armchairs and some high-top workstations — was the final segment of the buffet; it featured make-your-own nachos (think Tostitos with out-of-the-jar salsa) and some pastries. The showers were back in this section, but they were not open for passenger use.
I spent a couple of hours working thanks to the free and speedy Wi-Fi, and I had a few snacks, some coffee and some water.
About an hour before my flight’s departure time, I made my way down to the gate, which was indeed at the B concourse. I found a crowd of my fellow passengers already there and waiting. I had requested to board early (to snap some photos without disturbing other flyers) and was permitted onto the plane while the crew completed its pre-flight checks.
I figured I would have about five or 10 minutes to take some seat photos. I actually ended up having closer to 45 minutes since there was a staffing issue at Heathrow that day and either some of the flight crew or the ground crew were delayed in getting to the plane. I asked the flight attendants if that was common these days and they said it had been happening somewhat regularly, though this was a relatively long delay. I also took the opportunity to ask how they liked the new Club Suites and they told me that passengers were absolutely thrilled with them. They also said the suites were a huge improvement over the old Club World seats, which was no surprise.
Eventually, the other passengers began to board and I took my seat.
Cabin and seat
As I had the entire plane to myself for about 45 minutes, I explored all the cabins in detail. The front of the plane held the first-class cabin, with just two rows in a 1-2-1 pattern, for eight seats total.
Behind that was a business-class mini-cabin with just three rows of seats in a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone layout (plus an extra on the right side in the fourth row). The seats on the sides angle out toward the windows and those in the center angle toward one another. They have extendable privacy dividers if you’re not traveling with someone you know.
I had chosen a side seat in this section for optimum privacy; I also knew it would be quieter and the service would be quicker than in the larger main business-class cabin.
That section was located behind the galley and the boarding door. It had nine rows of four seats each, also in a 1-2-1 pattern.
If these seats look familiar, that’s because they’re Collins Aerospace Super Diamonds, much like you’d find on American Airlines and Air Canada. These have been customized with sliding doors for privacy, though, which puts them ahead of the versions on other carriers.
British Airways updated these seats by incorporating a palette of charcoal-gray surface finishes and upholstery with white accent stitching. The seat shells and doors also have felt finishes to reduce noise in the cabin.
I measured my seat to be 22 inches wide between the armrests (though that expanded to 27 inches with the wide aisle-side armrest lowered) and 25 inches wide at the shoulder. In lie-flat bed mode, it reclined to a full length of 79 inches — more than long enough for my short frame.
The foot cubby measured 12 inches high by 17 inches deep, so if you have very large feet, you might need to shift a bit to get comfortable. It was fine for me, though.
As for the door, it rose to a height of 44 inches from the ground, basically to the top of the seat back. That gives passengers a lot of privacy and shields them from aisle activity, though it’s not quite as private as Qatar Airways’ QSuite.
The doors were latched open for takeoff and landing, but released during the flight. I actually found it difficult to open and close it, so I mostly left it open for meal service, then closed it when I wanted to rest. Flight attendants were on hand to help passengers with their doors, but perhaps in the next version, the airline and seat manufacturer will find a way to make the doors easier to maneuver.
As for the other seat features, I was impressed by the amount of storage available. Next to the seatback and away from the aisle was a small, shallow cabinet with a vanity mirror on the door.
In the large armrest by the window (or between the center seats for those in the middle section), there were two cubbies. The first was just a small space to hold personal items like a wallet or glasses. The second had USB ports, a headphone jack for the entertainment system and a universal power plug embedded in its side. There was also a handheld remote for the seat’s entertainment system, which, to be honest, felt a little dated since it wasn’t a touchscreen … or that responsive.
Embedded in the armrest below, there was a touchscreen that you could use to control the seat and its various components — placing it in an upright position for takeoff and landing, reclining it to a lounging position, or all the way to lie-flat. It could also turn on the overhead light, and there was a separate reading light that flipped out from the seatback.
There was a small cubby by the footwell with the plane’s safety card and a place to put a bottle of water or other items; it was supposed to remain empty for taxi, takeoff and landing.
Speaking of lie-flat, when I reclined the seat into a bed, it felt roomy, comfortable and private thanks to that sliding panel; overall, it was easy to sleep in. British Airways provided passengers with medium-weight blankets and full-size pillows from The White Company, which were quite cozy, though breathable. A mattress pad would also be a nice touch.
Finally, I could unlatch the seat's bifold table from beneath the entertainment screen and slide it down a track into position closer to the seat. When unfolded to its full surface area, it measured 16 inches wide by 18 inches long; this was excellent for dining or pulling out my laptop to get some work done after takeoff.
All in all, the Club Suite felt like a very updated, contemporary (and competitive) business-class seat that’s just a notch above similar offerings thanks to the privacy door. The subtle but elegant finishes and vibrant blue mood lighting gave the entire cabin a sleek ambiance that heightened the aura of exclusivity.
Amenities and service
Faced with such a substantial – and likely very frustrating to the other passengers – delay, the flight crew could not have been more cheerful, helpful or efficient. They got the plane boarded very quickly. I noticed them helping passengers into their Club Suites, explaining the various features and controls, and thanking them for their patience.
While that happened, they also distributed menus and offered each passenger a choice of water, juice or Champagne.
Interestingly, the airline did not provide any amenity kits on this flight, possibly because it was a short daytime one. However, British Airways does offer The White Company amenity kits on its long-haul flights. I was still able to use The White Company geranium-neroli-eucalyptus hand lotion and soap provided in the lavatory, though.
Aside from a pillow, the only amenity waiting at my seat when I boarded was a pair of headphones to use with the entertainment system. The first pair I got did not work properly, but when I flagged the problem, I received a new pair that functioned fine.
The high-definition entertainment screen was very crisp and measured 18 inches diagonally, so it was a good size for viewing whether seated or reclining. However, it did not swivel up or down. There were dozens of new-release movies and a variety of TV shows including “Billions” and “Derry Girls.”
The aircraft was also equipped with Wi-Fi. Those in first class could use it for free for the entire flight, though the rest of us had to pay 4.99 pounds ($6) for an hour, 11.99 pounds ($14.50) for four hours, or 14.99 pounds ($18) for the whole flight. I just selected an hour pass for the start of the flight. It worked well for sending emails and using online apps like Google Docs.
Food and beverage
The flight attendants came through after boarding was complete to take meal and drink orders.
I decided to start with a glass of DeMorgenzon Chardonnay from South Africa, which I received about 20 minutes after takeoff on a cute tray.
Meal service commenced about a half-hour after that. I started with an appetizer of roasted cauliflower with chimichurri and red pepper dip. Main meal choices included braised beef cheeks with sweet corn gnocchi, chicken with leek and mushroom pie, or vegetable korma. For dessert, there was chocolate mousse, and both cheddar and red Leicester cheeses with fig jam with Peter's Yard sourdough crackers. Small-batch coffee sourced from Honduras and Peru was also available.
I decided on the beef cheeks and everything came out on a single, elegantly arranged tray with a small bread basket. While it didn’t feel quite as high-end as multiple courses would have, it certainly made the meal service more efficient and easier to work around. (As a side note: British Airways resumed multicourse meal service a few weeks after my flight, in October 2022, with new seasonal menus as well).
The cauliflower was light and tangy while the beef cheeks were juicy and filling. The mousse was a nice but unremarkable sweet taste to taper off with. Along with my meal, I enjoyed a glass of Swartland Winery Syrah, which was spicy and fruity; I had a drop of Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port to finish.
Meal service finished about 90 minutes after takeoff, leaving passengers plenty of time to work or relax, both of which I did.
Then, about 90 minutes before landing, and as passengers began stirring, flight attendants periodically came through the cabin offering a pre-arrival snack. I woke up around an hour before landing and before freshening up in the lavatory, I asked for a bite. The choices were a chicken-tomato toasted sandwich or a vegetable-pesto panini with mozzarella. Flight attendants ended up serving passengers both, along with a cut of carrot cake. The sandwiches, though simple, were piping hot and delicious, and the cake was worth a bite or two.
Shortly after staff collected my plates, we began our descent into JFK. We experienced another delay due to some training scenario unfolding on the tarmac, which the captain explained over the announcement system; the captain kept passengers informed periodically as things unfolded.
Eventually, we taxied to our gate and deplaned quickly. I made sure to thank the three flight attendants who had been serving my section; they had been so personable, efficient and just plain delightful to chat with both before and during the flight.
I had been looking forward to trying out British Airways’ new Club Suites since they debuted in 2019, and they did not disappoint.
Spacious and comfortable, the seats get the added benefit of extra privacy thanks to their sliding doors (even if they are a little hard to operate). The food and drink were delicious and the entertainment systems and Wi-Fi worked well.
The only real shortfalls I found were in the so-called soft products. The lack of amenity kits and more substantial bedding kept the experience from feeling ultra-premium. However, the warmth of the crew and the personalized attention went a long way toward offsetting any missing details.