Tried & Tested

British Airways B747-400 Club World

31 Mar 2009 by Tom Otley

FIRST IMPRESSIONS I had checked in online for my 2325 departure back to London Heathrow that morning. I arrived at Chek Lap Kok International at 2115 and used the fast bag drop facilities at the airport before clearing security and immigration. (This area has been revamped in recent months, and seems to be working more smoothly, with queues being processed quickly.)  I was travelling with a colleague who was flying with Cathay Pacific, so went to the business class lounge for Cathay (The Pier) for a drink before the flight. The BA lounge is opposite the departure gates (15 to 17) on the first level.

BOARDING Boarding had just commenced when I arrived at Gate 17 at 2245. Business and first class passengers were in a separate, shorter queue, and were boarded first. 

THE SEAT BA has two configurations of its B747-40 fleet, known as mid-J and High J depending on the number of J Class (business class) seats on board (either 52 or 70). This flight was on a high-J configuration, so on the main deck Club World is in two cabins forward and aft of the steps up to the upper deck, where there are a further 20 seats. (Click here for a seatplan.)

The front cabin (rows 12-14) is probably the better of the two on the main deck, since the rear cabin (rows 17-20 in a 2-4-2 configuration (AB – DEFG – JK), with its 32 seats is where children are placed. I was in the back row in an aisle seat, 20B, where 20D, E and F were occupied by a family of four (two adults, one child in a seat and one baby). Then on the other side of the partition to my rear, there were families with babies in bassinets at the front of World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy). This isn’t the place for a debate on babies in business class, but I could tell that in the hour or so the children cried, many passengers were having it with themselves.

This rear cabin on the B747 is the same as that on the mid-J version of the B747 (ie: same size of four rows of 2-4-2 and same seat numbers being rows 17-20, so the notes previously made on this are relevant; click here). The only real difference it seems to me is that on the other side of the curtain at the back of the cabin it is economy (World Traveller) on the mid-J version, while on the high version it is World Traveller Plus.

On the face of it you’d think row 20 is the worst for a night flight because of the risk of howling children, but having flown in this row in the window seat (20A), I know that four of the seats here do have some advantages, not least the few extra inches of leg room (which translates to a longer lie flat bed). This applies to all the rear facing seats in row 20 (so A,E,F and K).

Conversely, row 17 which is furthest away from the families (if there are any flying), has four not so good seats in 17B,D,G and J. Why? Because they face the galley, and so have noise and light problems, but most importantly, are shorter length beds because they have the shield wrapped around the ottoman footrest (because there is no seat in front of them) which shortens the overall space.

I’m not a huge fan of aisle seats, because I don’t like being kicked by people climbing over my feet from the window seat if I am in B or J (or centre seat when in D or G) and you always get a little nervous when people go in the overhead locker since, objects “might fall out and injure” me. (This happened in the night. Luckily it was a baby’s nappy – unused – so I suffered only shock rather than injury.) In addition, you have to remember to not loll into the aisle as you sleep (bearing in mind that the armrest lowers when you recline the bed) since a passing trolley might lop off the stray limb. Still, the flight was full, and I was counting my blessings on this night sector to have the prospect of a flat bed.

Before the meal service I did some work and as usual, wedged the sleep blanket between the arm of the seat and the underneath of the table so I could work without the table bouncing up and down. What struck me this time was just how the table also bounced whenever the passengers in 20A shifted in his seat (and presumably vice versa, I’m not apportioning blame). In fact the flight attendant noticed me holding onto the laptop when this happened, and agreed that the design was a bit flimsy, but in general was better than the old one. I said I missed the small drinks table that used to fold out, but he said they always snapped off, and besides, were at such a sloping angle you had to be very brave to put a drink on them anyway.

The choice of starter was smoked duck breast with green mango salad or spring onion and tomato terrine with bab ghanoush, a fresh seasonal salad. Then main courses: grilled beef tenderloin with morel sauce, Savoyard potato, spinach and carrot; Cantonese steamed halibut with soy sauce, steamed rice and Chinese vegetables; Orecchiette with basil cream, semi-dried tomato, asparagus and olive; or a chilled main course salad of Buffalo mozzarella and pesto marinated grilled vegetables. The dessert was pear and macadamia nut crumble with vanilla sauce as well as cheese and biscuits and a selection of fruit. I ordered the main course salad and was impressed that I was offered it straight away, but I was working and happy to have it at the same time as everyone else.

The wines on this sector were the same as on the way out at the beginning of the week: whites were Rosenvale Unoaked Semillon 2006, Barossa Valley and Sin Palabras Albarino 2007, Rias Baixas, and the reds were The Hedonist Shiraz 2005, McLaren Vale and Crozes-Hermitage La Petite Ruche 2007, M Chapoutier. The champagne was Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve.

Breakfast started with choice of fruit juice or fruit smoothie plus Birchermuseli with mango or fruit yoghurt. Main courses were Classic British breakfast of scrambled egg, bacon, pork sausage, mushrooms and tomato; pumpkin and porcini frittata or braised rice stick noodles and vegetables served with pork dumpling, crab roe and shrimp and scallop dumpling. I was late waking for this and so the mueseli had all been taken. The pumpkin and porcini frittata is to be avoided. 

ARRIVAL We were among the first handful if not the first to land at Heathrow, at 0435 in the morning, some 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Quick transit from Satellite B into Terminal 5, a short queue at immigration (I used IRIS), and then saw our bags already on the carousel. I was landside by 0450, which is outstanding.

VERDICT An excellent flight; on time, with good flexible service, friendly staff and a comfortable bed for a night’s sleep.


Tom Otley

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