Tried & Tested

British Airways 747-400 Club World

21 Oct 2009 by Tom Otley

First impressions: Having checked in online I arrived at Heathrow T5 at 1930 for the 2115 departure of BA31 for Hong Kong. There was a short queue at fast track security, and then I walked through the terminal, down the escalators, retraced my steps on the lower level and then took two escalators up to the Galleries lounge.

The lounge: On this Sunday evening there was an initial sense of the lounge being as exhausted as the passengers. There was a choice of several empty white wine bottles (I had a small taste of Gruner Veltliner) but hunting around I found another station with half full bottles, and by the time I left refills had come. I had some work emails to sort out, and so worked until an announcement came on the electronic screen saying the flight would depart from Satellite B. I packed up my belongings and made my way there. I quickly visited the satellite Galleries Lounge, but then went down to Gate 33, took advantage of the fast track boarding and was on the aircraft for 2045. A flight attendant quickly offered me a glass of champagne and hung my jacket. We departed on time at 2115.

The seat: This was the mid-J version of BA’s B747 aircraft, which means 52 as opposed to 70 business class (J) seats. The seating configuration in ClubWorld (business) is AB – DEFG – JK, with A, D, G and J forward facing, and B, E, F and K backward facing. For the seatplan, click here.

I was on the main deck, in a backward facing centre seat (19J). The advantage of this seat is that it is not on the aisle, and so no one is stepping over you to get access to the galley or washrooms. The disadvantage is that you are sitting, and then sleeping next to someone, though since you are next to them, you don’t have to make eye contact.

Having travelled a lot in ClubWorld, it was good to be sitting next to someone who obviously hadn’t. He was first of all baffled that the in-seat power required a US adaptor. The explanation from the flight attendant was that it was a US-made plane. I lowered my tray table and wedged the blanket under one end of it to stop it bouncing as I worked on my laptop.

Which seat should you go for? Experienced ClubWorld travellers will invariably say – Upper Deck. They have a point. Once you are up there it feels like your own private business class-only aircraft, you have your own cabin, with a controlled temperature with no knock-on effect from economy or premium economy, and it is quiet. It’s true, though if I had a lot of luggage I’d probably worry about the smaller over head compartments and the fact that the wheelie bags will be stored at the top of the stairs – that can slow you down during disembarkation (and you don’t get priority over the main deck of ClubWorld from the Upper Deck, something that should cross your mind if your arrival is somewhere with slow immigration where it pays to be at the head of the queue).

The main deck on a mid-J configuration such as this has a galley at the front, so there’s possible noise disturbance from that, and economy is behind a curtain and a thin wall at the rear, so possibly a bassinet with a baby ready to yell through the night. But let’s say you are on this deck, I think 20A or 20J are good seats – yes, you are backward facing and that bassinet is possibly just the other side of the wall, but not all flights have babies on them, and not all babies cry, and these are the only two window seats in the cabin with unimpeded access to the aisle (ie: ones where you can get to the aisle without climbing over the feet of a passenger reclining next to you). I would avoid 17AB and JK, as they are too close to the galley and washrooms and you will be disturbed, particularly on the aisle seat (17B and 17J).

The flight: The meal service came around shortly after take off. The choice was traditional prawn cocktail or pear and stilton pate with poached pear and spelt bread (V), fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette. Mains: fillet of beef served with roast potatoes, green beans, carrots and Yorkshire pudding; Liam Tomlins roast chicken with roast vegetables and bread sauce, steamed wild halibut with sweet and sour sauce, butternut squash risotto (V) or chilled main course salad of spiced salmon with yoghurt and mint raita. Dessert: blackberry upside-down pudding with crème anglaise; Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar truckle and Bleu d’Auvergne with savoury biscuits, selection of fruit and chocolates.

The wine menu was as follows: Champagne: Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top and Cattier Brut (located in the village of Chigny-les-Roses on the Montagne de Reims). Whites:  Zevenwacht Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Rully Premier Cru Les Gresigny 2007, Tamar Ridge, Kayena Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Tasmania and Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River. Only the first two of these were available. Reds: Glaetzer Wallace Shiraz Grenache 2006, Barossa Valley; Thelema Shiraz 2006 Stellenbosch, Chateau Beaumont 2004, Haut Medoc or Tim Adams Cabernet 2005, Clare Valley.

I’ve not noticed this before, but it seems common practice for only half of the wine menu to be available. There is a note on the menu to that effect. It reads: “We offer a selection of wines from the above list. Please ask your crew to advise you of the choices available on today’s service.”

I watched one film, then reclined the seat and went to sleep for six hours. When I woke I went to the Club Kitchen, got a drink and a bar of chocolate, then went back to my seat and watched another film as breakfast was served. This was fruit juice or smoothie (apricot and peach, not as bad as it sounds), or a Greek yoghurt with apricot and blueberry compote, a selection of breads and pastries, and then a choice of cooked breakfast. I passed on this, but it was a choice of the full English, Pork Congee or creamy mushrooms on a toasted English muffin.

Arrival: We arrived ahead of schedule by some 20 minutes, and were quickly on stand. From there a long walk took us to immigration. The bags were on the carousel by the time I had got through.

Verdict: Excellent. Nothing fancy, but plenty of time to sleep, good friendly service from everyone in the crew, and even the IFE worked.


Tom Otley

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