Verdict: BA's new World Traveller / World Traveller Plus

6 Sep 2010 by Tom Otley

As readers will be aware, British Airways has introduced a new World Traveller and World Traveller Plus product on its new B777-300ER aircraft (alongside the new First, and the quite-new Club World). For the facts and figures as well as pictures of the new seats, click here for our report.

As can be seen from those reports, it’s important to understand that these are new seats, but not a new service. The food remains the same, as does the configuration of the seats on the aircraft in terms of 3-3-3 in World Traveller (WT) economy and 2-4-2 in World Traveller Plus (WT+) premium economy. What’s changed is the seats and the IFE on the aircraft, and both are a great improvement. Note also that the IFE is also improved in Club World and First.

World Traveller

On the B777-300ER World Traveller is split into two sections with 63 seats across eight rows, and then 122 seats across 18 rows. For a seatplan of the aircraft, click here

BA isn’t claiming that the new WT economy product gives flyers more room – seat pitch remains constant at 31 inches, but sitting in the seat it is clear that the new design does give more room, whether because of thinner but more efficient cushions, or just clever ergonomic design.

The IFE box is under seats in A and C, D and F and H and K, so for maximum leg room, avoid those, and be aware that there are some washrooms on the port side of the aircraft in rows 34 and 35 (not shown in our seatplan – we will revise it), so the seating is 34 DEF HJK with ABC omitted – if you are sitting in 34D you are opposite the washroom door.

It would have been very easy for BA to put 10-across seating in these aircraft. It has the economic justification to do so, it is something its competitors such as Emirates and Etihad have done, and it would have undoubtedly helped profitability, at least in the short term. Yet Willie Walsh was clear that BA wasn’t going to do this. The rotation of the B777-300ER fleet through the network, initially on Mumbai, New Delhi, Dubai and Chicago, means that the sector lengths vary, but Walsh said that as a premium airline it wasn’t something he wanted to see onboard. BA should be congratulated for that.

The meal table folds out in two halves, allowing it to be used for drinks without taking up the whole space in front of you, and is adjustable so you can pull it closer if need be. There are plug sockets between the seats (so two for every three). 

The IFE is excellent, but we will be publishing a separate piece on that including an interview with Gemma Conlon, BA’s Customer Experience Development Manager later this week.

World Traveller Plus

On the B777-300ER, World Traveller Plus (WT+) is in a dedicated cabin of 44 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. The seatplan link is here

Again, BA isn’t claiming that the new seats give more leg room – it is still quoted as 38 inches, and yet the effect of sitting in the seat is of more room, perhaps because of new, thinner cushions, or perhaps because of the greater degree of recline. Having sat in all of the seats in the cabin, my advice would be to avoid seats B and J.

The IFE boxes are under AB and JK, but for the window seats of A and K you can simply put your leg alongside the seat in front to have extra room. If you try this in B and J it is in the aisle and will cause problems (the photo here is of an aisle seat).

As can be seen from the seatplan, the best seats are 22 AB and JK because these are at the front of the cabin with the doors in front of you.

On the photo below of seat 21D in the front row of the WT+ cabin you can see the foot rest is integrated in the leg rest. Note the two USB ports and the RCA port. On seats other than the front row these are incorporated into the seat back (as, of course, is the IFE screen). The plug is just out of this picture, but the power socket is compatible with UK, US and European plugs. Contrary to some reports, on all seats the headphone socket is in the seat arm, so there’s no question of having to unplug yourself if someone inside you wants to gain access to the aisle. 

The footrests seem good and strong, and when folded back up under the seat in front don’t get in the way of your legs.

Sitting in a seat upright with the seat in front fully reclined, the IFE screen can be tilted in such a way that it is still possible to watch the film, though as now, taller travellers will be at a disadvantage here, and will probably choose to recline their own seat to lower their line of vision. 

To see more pictures of both the new WT and WT+, taken on the flight out, click here.

Verdict: BA’s premium economy product is tired and needs this refresh, and the new seats are a great improvement and give the aircraft a more consistent feel in terms of design and general aesthetics. They are comfortable, roomy seats, with an excellent upgraded IFE system by Thales (on which we will publish a full piece later).

The one reservation is the fact that the majority of the existing long haul fleet will never see this product. It will be installed on a total of six B777-300ER aircraft, with three coming in 2010 and the remainder by 2012. Towards the end of 2011 there will also be a retrofit of 18 of the B777-200 fleet (those which have the GMIS IFE system – ie: the ones which do not allow you to stop and start the entertainment). But even after all of this has been completed say by the end of 2012, it will still only be 24 aircraft out of a long haul fleet of 123. (I come to this number as follows: B747 (57), B777-200s (46) and B767 (21 in total, but only 14 for long haul) and the 6 B777-300ERs.)

So if you are flying on the other 28 B777-200 aircraft, or any of the B747s and B767s you will still be flying on the existing World Traveller and World Traveller Plus seats. Experts out there will perhaps be able to tell you which aircraft with which products are on which route, but for the general flyer, you won’t know until you board.

BA is hardly the only carrier with inconsistencies, of course. Emirates flies around with four different types of business class and has 10 across seating in economy, but for regular BA flyers it is likely to be a source of frustration that the investment is not being made in all the economy and premium economy seating. The other aircraft will see a refresh in these cabins – so the seat cushions will be replaced, but the seats will remain the same – as will the IFE. This “soft” refurbishment will eventually make the cabins looks consistent with one another, as this B777-300ER does as you walk from one end to the other, but for those stuck with the Rockwell Collins IFE system, they will be hoping that promised improvements to that system come sooner rather than later.

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