BA announced its new Club World back in 2006 (see online news, Nov 16, 2006) and by early this summer it was available on all nine JFK flights departing London Heathrow, with an eventual completion date of the end of 2008 (NB: it is not yet on all Hong Kong flights). Despite seeing it in flight on several occasions (usually while walking through it to premium economy or economy), Business Traveller has waited until now to review the seat, so that there's a chance it is either on your next flight, or will soon be coming to that route. The new seating will be fitted to BA's 57-strong fleet of B747s and the 43 B777s it operates, but the B767s are unlikely to see the new Club World.
Hong Kong flights depart from Terminal 1, at least until the big move to T5 in March next year. Having already been through this terminal a few days earlier on a short haul BA flight, I wasn't keen on spending any longer than necessary inside the building, and arrived via the Piccadilly Line at 1945 for my 2115 departure on BA0031. I had already checked in online at ba.com. British Airways has a separate check-in for premium passengers as well as silver and gold card holders in Zone R, accessed along a short corridor from the main check-in area. There was only a short queue, though the premium passengers here all seemed to be fairly demanding of the check-in staff, at least in terms of time, and it was five minutes before I could drop off my bag and get my boarding pass (the printer at home doesn't work).
From this check-in lounge there is a dedicated security lane, and despite having to take shoes off, remove laptop, bag up liquids and remove jacket, I was quickly in the large BA lounge. I inquired at the Molton Brown Spa for the possibility of a massage before departing, more out of habit than hope, but the first available slot was at 2030, too close to my departure time. I made do with watching the play off for the British Open, and a packet of crisps.
Boarding: I left the lounge before the flight was called, and so was part of a short, separate queue for premium passengers. Once on board I turned right and walked through the premium economy section (World Traveller Plus) to find the new business (Club World) section. For those flying with BA long haul, there is a bewildering number of versions of seating on long haul flights as the new product is fitted. Whereas before there used to be two different seating configurations on the B747s with either 38 or 70 Club World seats, this is now being increased to either 52 or 70, depending on the route, though obviously in the interim any of these may be encountered.
I had chosen a rear facing window seat, good for being undisturbed, bad if you want to get up several times during the flight since you have to jump over the feet of the person in the aisle. There is a new table and 10-inch TV screen, both of which fit flush into the side of the seat, and the controls for the seat have changed, including a take off and landing pre-set button, saving that old hassle of having to go back and forth until the right position was reached and a little light came on. There are also noise-cancelling headphones and a US plug adaptor for laptops. A new Molton Brown washbag is given out (with the same products inside as the old one) and when it comes to sleep, a new cotton blanket.
Between the seats in place of the old privacy fan there is now a screen made of an electronically-controlled material called Lumisty. It remains down before take off, which means you have the old problem of sitting almost face-to-face with the passenger opposite, though afterwards it can be left up. The staff, however, found it difficult to do meal service over this, with some reaching over the top and inviting you to take the tray, and others going around the end of the seat so you have to lean forward and around the TV screen to help them. Neither solution is very convenient for either server or served, and I was told by the staff that it's tough on their backs to reach so far, so some just push down the screen when they need to serve a window seat.
The seat: Much has been made by BA's competitors of what little difference there is between the new product and the old, but in appearance there is much to be remarked upon. The colour scheme is brighter, the lines more defined, and there was a neat storage drawer into which I put my shoes, only to realize later that it was meant for laptops. This allows busy executives to keep working until the last moment before landing, without having to stow their laptop in the overhead locker.
Industrial design agency Tangerine, which developed the original flat bed product, was brought in again to fine-tune the seat, while creative inspiration came from Tyler Brûlé, founder of Wallpaper*, and his design agency Winkreative. The seat flattens out to be 6ft (182.9cm) in length, but also reclines into what is called the "Z" position, which extends the seat to 6ft 6in (198cm) and which supports the legs and lower back in a similar way as a sun lounger. BA says its new seats are 25 per cent wider than before (the armrests disappear when the seat is reclined), but they do seem shorter. I am average height (5ft 11in) but found that if I lay flat my feet were against the back of the seat in front. It wasn't a problem, and in some ways felt rather comforting, but might be uncomfortable for taller flyers.
More problematical was the fact that the seat was slightly defective, in that even when flat, if pressure was put on the seat section (effectively the middle of the bed) for instance by turning over when sleeping, then the top section of the bed flipped up from the horizontal. This wasn't enough to be alarming, but was sufficient to wake me each time. I reported the fault to the staff, who said it wasn't an uncommon one.
The other fault was with the new audiovisual on demand (AVOD) system, which after allowing me to watch one film failed to restart after a long pause (when I was sleeping). Despite several attempts by the staff to reset it, I had only radio programmes and the map for company after that. Again, it seems these teething problems are continuing, even after several months, though I have flown in other cabins using the new AVOD without problems, so perhaps I was just unlucky on this occasion.
The flight: The onboard food is as good as before, with an impressive choice of starters and mains. There's also a revamped Club Kitchen for those who want to snack or drink throughout the flight. By the time I'd woken it had all been eaten, which is probably a good advert for it. Breakfast was served promptly, around 90 minutes before landing, and the captain kept us informed of our progress.
Arrival: We arrived slightly early, just before 1600 at Chek Lap Kok airport, and were quickly on stand. From there, the airport quickly and efficiently allowed us to progress through immigration, pick up bags, and then catch the very quick, clean and quiet train into Hong Kong.
Verdict: For those using BA's Club World on a regular basis, there wasn't a lot wrong with the old product, so this feels more like fine tuning than a radical overhaul. It looks fresher, has some nice new ideas (the laptop drawer, proper charging for laptops and a better dividing screen, as well as AVOD) and should keep Club World a popular choice on premium routes.
Price: When Business Traveller checked this week, a return fare in Club World cost from £3,817 (departing Saturday August 18 and returning Thursday August 23).