Tried & Tested

British Airways B747-400 Club World

30 Jul 2008 by Tom Otley

FIRST IMPRESSIONS I checked in online but
for various reasons arrived at Heathrow four hours early for my 1340 flight to Miami on BA0209. It was a
quiet Sunday morning at the airport, and I quickly printed off a second
boarding pass (having forgotten the first one) and deposited my bags at the
fast-bag drop. The Club World (business class) ticket meant I could use
fast-track and I was through security in less than three minutes. Wanting to do
some work, I turned left and went into one of the Galleries Club lounges for
the first time.

THE LOUNGE I used the lounge at the
northern end of the terminal. As this is close to the short-haul gates, it is
intended for Club Europe customers and gold and silver Executive Club members
travelling on the short-haul and domestic networks. It has 440 seats, and as
with all BA lounges, there was free internet access with BT Openzone, which
meant I could work while gradually getting through a substantial breakfast of
cereals, a bacon sandwich, a cappuccino and several cups of tea.

BOARDING There were no flight announcements
in the lounge, and so despite arriving several hours early, I was still late
making my way down the escalators for the flight. There is a shuttle train for
flights departing from Satellite B, so I took the lift down to that level,
boarded the train and came up a minute or so later. (From September there will
be an additional Terraces lounge here.) By now, the flight was showing red as
it was on the final call, and as Gate 43 is in the far corner, I only made it
with about two minutes to spare, since all flights are closed for boarding 20
minutes before departure.

This Boeing 747-400 is one of two daily
departures for BA on the route. BA 207 leaves at 0935, arriving at 1340, while
BA209 leaves at 1340 and arrives at 1745 
– both taking nine hours and five minutes. Both are in the Mid-J
configuration (see seat plan below), which means that World Traveller Plus (WTP) premium economy is
in front of Club World (CW), something that Club World flyers dislike, and WTP
flyers love. Why? Well WTP passengers tend to come back and use the same
toilets as those in the CW cabin, dip into the Club World kitchen (see below)
ignoring their own smaller choice of pantry, and, depending on the position of
the airbridge, might even depart first. It should also be noted that the cabin
crew don’t much like having to police this situation. Having said that, British
Airways maintains that this has not affected demand for Club World, and has
increased demand for World Traveller Plus.

So how does BA decide on which routes to
put Mid-J and High-J? It tends to be on routes where there is a fair mix of
leisure and business, such as Cape Town, LA, Mauritius,
San Francisco and this Miami routing. (Having said that, on the
return trip a few days later, it was High-J, which is either an aircraft
change, or means that one of these flights down to Miami is High-J and the other Mid-J).

THE SEAT I was in seat 19B, an aisle seat and
not one I would normally have chosen, but the flight was busy in three classes,
only first having a few spare seats. My jacket was taken and I accepted the
offer of water, orange juice and champagne all together, because I was thirsty
after the run. Pushing back within 15 minutes, we had the normal delay before
take-off waiting for a slot, finally leaving 35 minutes late, although the
pilot did say he would try and make up the time.

THE FLIGHT As soon as the seatbelt sign was
off, I had my laptop out and was trying to keep it charged using the in-seat
power supply. This didn’t seem to work either in my seat or the one in front,
so a cabin attendant switched the power for the seats on and off to try and
reset it, and finally discovered I simply hadn’t pushed the plug in hard enough,
so I was very grateful for the help. I also found that the table vibrated as I
typed on the laptop, which caused a lot of errors, and whenever my neighbour
shifted in his seat, the table bounced enough to spill drinks which made it
difficult to relax.

Once in flight, drinks and a menu came
around quickly. The choice on this flight was a starter of Loch Fyne Bradan
Rost salmon with smoked mackerel pâté and oatcakes, or mushroom and potatoes à la grecque. The main courses were
Michel Roux’s corn-fed breast of chicken with cherry-tomato sauce, baby
vegetable ratatouille with Parisienne potatoes, shepherd’s pie with Cheddar
mash, potato truffle gnocchi or a salad of Norfolk ham, coastal Cheddar and Oxford Isis
with Kentish huffkins (small rolls with a hole in the middle). There was also a
custard tart and a cheese plate, as well as fruit and chocolates for afters.

Throughout the flight there is the ability
to eat-on-demand, albeit self-service from the Club Kitchen at the front of the
CW cabin. (If you are upstairs, there is a smaller selection, but you can go to
the kitchen downstairs if you prefer.) There are sandwiches, smoothies, cakes
and chocolates, as well as fruit for the worthy.

As this was a day flight, some people went
to sleep, while others stayed awake and watched the films on the new AVOD
system, which was working well. Shortly before arrival, we were offered another
meal service of scones and clotted cream.

ARRIVAL The flight was a smooth one, with
no turbulence or delays, and we arrived in Miami on time. The airbridge was attached at
the front of Club World but most of the WTP cabin departed before CW, which
meant we were well back in the queue for immigration, which took around 15
minutes.

VERDICT The teething problems with Club
World have been sorted and it is the premium product which justifies its (high)
price.

PRICE The lead-in
fare for a Club World flight from London to Miami (restricted with a
42-day apex purchase) is £2,228. At the time of checking, a return fare booked
at ba.com, departing Sunday August 10 and returning Thursday August 14, was
£4,174.

CONTACT ba.com.

Tom Otley

Seat plan for Boeing 747-400 Mid-J configuration

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