As business travellers who fly regularly to the US will know, the return flight is the one where you hope to get some sleep. Flying from the US east coast back to Europe takes about seven hours, and the five-hour time difference means you can leave in the evening and arrive in time for work the next morning. Of course, whether you are able to do anything productive depends on whether you have managed to get any sleep, and it’s here that moving forward on the plane begins to pay dividends.
Business Traveller recently compared BA’s premium economy product, World Traveller Plus, with its business class Club World for the return journey (Business Traveller April 2004), and has also reported on Virgin’s Upper Class Suite product (Business Traveller December 2003/January 2004; see May 2004 for an interview with Virgin’s Head of Design, Joe Ferry).
Now BA has unveiled its improved evening “sleeper” service to appeal to business travellers. For passengers who’ve taken the BA service before, the updated version, launched in April, is not revolutionary – but it is certainly welcome. BA says it developed the sleeper service concept after receiving feedback from passengers who were paying the premium for a flat bed so they could sleep and wanted to maximise the time they actually spent asleep in preparation for the next day’s work. David Noyes, executive vice president sales and marketing North America, said that as a passenger on the route, there was nothing he dreaded more than hearing from the pilot that there would be a fast flight time back to London, since this cut down on sleep time. But there is more to it than just the onboard service. Said Noyes: “We believe that once you’ve got a flat bed, what remains is to improve the service on the ground.”
At the BA lounge in JFK it has been possible for some time to get a full meal before boarding, but the new pre-flight supper is better quality, served by chefs (who will make items off the menu), and replaces the meal on board. The menu changes daily, though the pasta bar is a constant, as are the fresh fruits and salads. There is a choice of main courses, including a vegetarian option, with cheese and wine also available.
Once on board, you can indulge further and have a drink (cold or hot, alcoholic or non-alcoholic) and a snack (such as a toasted sandwich filled with roasted vegetables or ham and cheese, and warm chocolate chip cookies with hot chocolate). Then the lights dim after take-off and it’s time to sleep. New extras include larger pillows, thicker blankets and the chance to raid a “midnight munchies” service in the galley area. Breakfast is now served as close to landing as possible and is continental-style (an orange juice or passion fruit smoothie, fresh fruit or cereal, bacon roll or cinnamon rolls).
Use of the arrivals lounge at Heathrow Terminal 4 is included in the service and is well worth considering, time permitting. A full, cooked buffet breakfast is available, along with showers, a Molton Brown spa and a complimentary clothes pressing service.
On our review flight the service worked well, although a storm before take-off delayed refuelling and we were obliged to wait on the tarmac for nearly an hour. Then, as all aircraft pushed back from their stands at the same time, a further delay meant take-off was 135 minutes late.
Undoubtedly there is still room for improvement in the new service (pyjamas and more space in the bed are two suggestions), but only by presenting a serious challenge to BA’s First Class product.