Look upon British Airways’ £100 million upgrade of Club World (its long-haul business class brand) as an evolution rather than a revolution.

That’s because BA’s Club World revamp eschews the increasingly popular east-west “herringbone” seat layout adopted by Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific amongst others. Neither has BA taken Singapore Airline’s brave move in deciding to sell business class seating based on width rather than space in front. But why is BA upgrading Club World in the first place ?

Says Willie Walsh, the airline’s chief executive, “In the year 2000, BA revolutionised the industry with the first ever flat bed seat. But customer expectations are rising all the time. Our passengers told us they wanted more comfort, more privacy and more space. They want more ‘control’ on board and they also want a calmer and more relaxed atmosphere.”

That’s all well and good. But in the meantime the competition is catching up so will BA’s revised Club World still cut the mustard in six years’ time ?

“[When I looked at what was on the market] I was surprised that so few of our customers still have a fully flat bed,” says Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, “we are seeing some of our competitors trying to match the standard we offer but it will take them some time to catch up.”

BA argues that its £100 million investment will be money well spent. While not prepared to discuss Club World’s contribution to BA’s profits, Willie Walsh added, “It’s no secret that our premium products are the most important parts of our business so it’s important we invest to meet customer expectations. But it [the new Club World] will make a handsome return, there’s no doubt about that.”

The new Club World’s seating is wider (because the arm rests disappear when the seat is reclined) “which means that passengers can now turn more easily in the bed,” says Willie Walsh, “and they’ve also got AVOD and noise-reducing headsets. Our Club Kitchen is a new and unique dining option which enables passengers to get snacks and so on whenever they like.”

Other features include a larger 10 inch screen, a laptop locker and a large privacy screen. Otherwise the existing north-south layout (with the same forward and backwards seating) remains the same.

BA will increase the number of seats on some planes. Some B747s will have their Club World seat count boosted from 38 to 52 seats while others will stay with the existing 70 seats.

The new seating will be fitted to BA’s 57-strong fleet of B747s and the 43 B777s it operates. The B767s are unlikely to see the new Club World as they will be replaced within the lifetime of the existing seats.

Although Club Kitchen is already appearing on flights (with hot snacks to be included from early next year) BA says the first plane with the new seating will appear by the end of November. But it will not divulge the route(s) it will serve. However BA does say that by next Spring it does expect all London-New York flights to be operated with planes carrying the new seating.

Timescale for fitting the new seating fleet-wide is 18 months. Can this be achieved when you consider it took six years to install the existing Club World ?

Says a spokesperson, “It’s quite feasible as we don’t have so many planes to convert. Also remember that the timescale for the original seating was two years and it took longer because we had to stop the [seat fitting] programme because of cash reserves following September 11.”

For more information go to newclubworld.com.