This was the British Airways A380 inaugural flight to Washington Dulles airport, the fourth destination for the BA superjumbo after Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Johannesburg.
A380 flights to Singapore and San Francisco are due to begin on October 28 and April 2015 respectively.
BA will initially fly the A380 five-times weekly to Washington Dulles, increasing to a daily service at the end of this month. It also operates flight BA292, operated by a B747, and the three-times weekly BA264, operated by a Boeing 777.
There was heavy traffic on the M25 and so I arrived at Heathrow slightly late at 0815 for the 0940 departure on BA217.
As I had only carry-on bags, I quickly checked-in, had my visa checked and went through security, which was swift.
As regular flyers will know, once through security there is a door to the right that is a short cut through to the BA lounges. Only First passengers normally use this door, but since I was heading for a reception in the Concorde Room my name was on the list and I was allowed through.
Note that on “normal” occasions, business class passengers have to walk through the airport, take the escalators down, pass more shops and then take the escalators back up to the Galleries lounges.
As for all A380 flights, boarding was from satellite C.
We took the shuttle train over and boarded without delay at 0915 (late, but we were escorted through).
BA has so far configured all its A380 cabins identically. So, as with previous A380s, this aircraft had a total of 469 seats over two decks with four cabins — 14 seats in First, 97 in Club World (business class), 55 in World Traveller Plus (premium economy), and 303 in World Traveller (economy).
On this occasion, I was on the upper deck in a window seat – 58K. The configuration on the upper deck is 2-3-2.
This review builds on previous reviews of the business class seat on the A380, and hopefully doesn’t repeat all the observations made in those. It also concentrates on the upper deck. To read previous reviews, click here.
The upper deck business class is in two cabins, a smaller front cabin and a larger one at the rear.
The Club World seat converts into a six-foot fully-flat bed. It also has a reclined Z position for relaxing and watching films in a near-recumbent position.
There is a 12.1-inch personal in-flight entertainment touch screen and noise-cancelling headphones — the Thales system is very good, and a lot more reliable than previous BA IFE incarnations — and a USB sockets that also powers personal devices. In addition, there is an in-seat power socket providing 110v AC power compatible with UK/US/EU plugs.
We were given Elemis amenity bags. The male and female bags have small differences in the amenities inside – shaving kit for men, for instance – and ear plugs and eye mask are separate.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
I’d go for the front cabin because it’s smaller, and there are two good-sized washrooms at the front of the aircraft, whereas the rear cabin has only one washroom on the right-hand side.
However, if you are in the rear cabin you can walk forward through the galley and the front cabin to get to these washrooms, which is what I did on this flight.
For this reason, I would avoid the front row of the front cabin where the seats are exposed (row 50). There’s a slight danger of noise from the galley in the rear row of this first cabin (53), and noise from the washrooms at the front, so I’d go for row 51 or 52.
If you are travelling on your own, you want a window seat. These have more privacy, and also have the advantage of a side locker which is very useful for storing personal items. Note, that you will have to step over the feet of the people in the aisle to gain access to the aisle unless you are in the rear row of either cabin (53 in the front cabin, 59 in the rear cabin).
I wouldn’t choose either of these however. In the case of row 59, the Club World seats are staggered in a way that you are almost in premium economy behind.
Row 59 of Club World, as viewed from the World Traveller Plus cabin behind it
In row 56, there’s the noise coming from the galley. So, while normally I’d suggest window seats at the back of the cabin are generally best because of the access, on the upper deck I’d recomment going for somewhere in the middle of the cabin (rows 57 and 58).
More generally, be aware that there is a lack of storage space on this upper deck. Partly, this is because the overhead lockers are small and, in the case of the ones over seats AC and JK, very small. You won’t fit a wheel-on in them, only a laptop bag.
The 2-3-2 configuration means there is also a middle rear-facing seat. This has some advantages. It has additional storage space, such as for a laptop/iPad and an extra flat surface for drinks and magazines, but if you have the seats either side of you occupied, then your have to decide which person you disturb when accessing the aisle.
There was no delay at take-off and we were quickly on our way to Washington.
Drinks orders were taken and then, from the menus that had been handed out before take-off, food orders.
I flew on some of BA’s early flights to Los Angeles when drinks were served individually from the galley, which proved a painfully slow process when there were 50-plus passengers in Club World. The service has definitely quickened as the flight attendants have grown more familiar with the aircraft.
The menu was as follows:
- Pork belly and prune terrine with a pickled turnip, spring onion and walnut salad
- Bocconcini mozzarella and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes with creamy basil dressing
- Fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette
- Seared fillet of British beef with a Mediterranean crust, chorizo potato cake, roasted courgette, red peppers and thyme sauce.
- Sustainably-sourced North Atlantic cod with saffron and sultana sauce, vegetable tajine and couscous
- Risotto of pumpkin, oyster mushroom, ginger, cinnamon and sage
- Chilled main course salad of roasted breast of corn-fed chicken with mango, papaya, cucumber and red pepper with a lime and ginger dressing.
- Chocolate and orange Mogador with orange sauce
- Croxton Manor Mature Cheddar and Shropshire Blue served ith quince jelly and biscuits
- Vanilla and dulce de lethe ice cream by The Ice Cream Union
- Champagne cocktails
- Kir Royale, Bucks Fizz
- Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve NV
- Champagne de Castelnau Brut Rose NV
- Champagne Boizel Grand Vintage 2004.
- Pouilly-Fume 2013, Chateau Favray, Loire Valley, France (white)
- Baileyana “Firepeak”, Chardonnay 2012, Edna Valley, California (white)
- Chateau Tauzinat L’Hermitage 2010, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux (red)
- Flor de Campo Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast, California (red)
Selection of fruit
Service was good, but uniquely BA. I was referred to as Mr Otley throughout the flight, but the lady in the aisle seat (a fellow journalist from Spain) was referred to both as “Madam” and “my dear”. The latter depends on the way it is delivered, but there are plenty of women who won’t like it.
Still the flight attendants all called each other “my love” (male and female), so it was rather like being given a glimpse of backstage, even while sitting in a seat you thought was in the stalls.
Throughout the flight, the Club World kitchen was kept fully-stocked. When I went back there flight attendants were quick to offer ice from drinks, cutlery for food and ask if there was anything else I required.
I worked for most of the flight using the in-seat power to keep devices charged. This is now important, with the new requirements to be able to power-up devices when required by security. I did recline the seat fully and doze for an hour or so ready for the afternoon and evening ahead in Washington DC.
We made good progress to our final destination, and about 90 minutes before landing afternoon tea was served with snacks, which were as follows:
- An individual selection of sandwiches featuring British chicken Caesar, Scottish smoked salmon with crème fraiche and mozzarella with roasted tomato mayonnaise
- Middle Eastern tabbouleh with goat’s cheese, cumin and labneh dressing
- Buttermilk or fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves
- Coconut mango drum, strawberry cupcake and chocolate glace square.
There was a smooth and direct approach for the final half hour, and the flight attendants did a good, quick and efficient job of tidying up the cabin and preparing for our arrival.
The aircraft landed slightly early at Washington Dulles International airport at 1245 and then had a slow taxi to the stand, where it was greeted with the traditional water shower from a fire truck.
There was then a delay of about 15 minutes to attach the air bridge. Washington Dulles has previously welcomed the Air France A380, but certainly this was a new procedure for the staff at this gate and they wanted to make sure there were no mistakes.
Since I was departing from the upper deck, I was keen they were careful as well. I then disembarked and got on the transfer bus which was a 15-minute journey to the main terminal.
The queue at immigration was long, and slow-moving. Over the course of the hour it took to crawl to the front, I went through the normal routine of acceptance, then irritation, then rage, then resignation, while promising myself I’d never come through Washington Dulles again, while at the same time knowing full well I will, since I’m returning in seven days’ time with Lufthansa.
Since we had no bags, we were not delayed by the carousel, but from landing to exiting the airport took more than two hours, a fairly typical experience of Washington in my experience and one I will repeat in another seven days on the next trip to Dulles.
A good service form the flight attendants, on-time departure and slightly early arrival. Unfortunately, there’s nothing BA can do about immigration.