First impressions: I had checked in online and selected my preferred seat in premium economy on this configuration, being 29A which has extra leg room. At around 2030 at the Airport Express check-in Hong Kong (Central ), I dropped off my bags and found I had been upgraded, but that the seat had a broken IFE system (probably the reason a paying Club World passenger had been moved from the seat). I said this was not a problem for me since I was intending to sleep, and got seat 19B on the lower deck. I took the Airport Express to Chek Lap Kok, arrived to see lines of trolleys waiting for those who needed them – superb service – and went straight to security and immigration and was through both in minutes.
The Lounge: There have been changes here, as reported on businesstraveller.com (click here for more details). Where before you turned right and walked through the business class lounge to reach the first, now the business class lounge has been moved, and the old business and first has been turned into one large lounge, for first passengers. I have a gold card, a gift from a frequent travelling friend who “had the gift of silver” which, since I already was silver, I moved up to gold. (You can only imagine how many times he reminds me of this favour.) As such, despite flying business, I went to the First lounge. Both of the lounges are best accessed through the north security gate. The sign now says ‘Qantas’ and does not mention BA, which is strange, but these are the lounges to head for. To recap, for First (or Gold Card tier level in Oneworld) you stay on this level and walk along the corridor, for business you go down the escalators, so if you are flying business, skip the next paragraph.
The First lounge has now doubled in size, but other than that, it hasn’t really changed, though it has had a “soft” refurbishment with a new carpet and some new lounging chairs. Perhaps the Apple computers in the business sitting area are new as well. I stayed and worked here using the airport wifi (free, but so slow that instant messaging was more effective than email). The champagne is Veuve Cliquot, which also passes the time waiting for a web page to load. The food offering runs from cookies to dim sum and noodles (you order these).
Flights are called from this lounge, but I wanted to see the business class lounge and so half an hour before departure I went down to the business class lounge which is reached by walking down to Gates 15-17 and then going down a further level using an escalator. This new lounge for Qantas and BA has a low ceiling, no natural light and the same carpets as the First lounge upstairs, but it is much more modern with spot lighting making it seem almost bar-like and a bar area with stools making more effective use of the space. On a quick survey, there also seemed to be a better food selection as well, though that might have been just because of better presentation.
On the way out I told the reception staff that I thought the lounge was better than the First one upstairs. She said that was because it was new, and the First lounge was going to be renovated towards the end of the year (ie: 2010). Until then it’s a toss up which is best: First which is empty, noisy from being open plane with the concourse below and slightly dated or business which can get crowded, is slightly claustrophobic but is modern and more intelligent in its use of space.
Boarding: as I was boarding I was told the IFE was now working. I sat down and was offered a drink while my coat was hung up. Stephen, the Cabin Services Director came and spoke to both myself and the passenger in 19A to say that in fact both seats had defective IFE, but he had blocked off other seats for us if we wanted to move. We didn’t, and so that was that, except of course the safety video is shown on the IFE and so to avoid being moved during it I made a big show of watching it on the monitor across the aisle in front of me (18C).
Once it had completed a no-nonsense and very attractive Irish FA ran through the highlights, showing us where the oxygen was, and indicating the location of my lifejacket. Unfortunately this wasn’t the end of it, since an hour into the flight Stephen was back on the tannoy, apologising for disturbing us, but saying that because a large section of the cabin (or possibly aircraft) had defective IFE, he was rebooting the whole system for the whole aircraft, which would take 15 minutes. I imagine this was very annoying for those watching the entertainment, particularly in economy, where any distraction is welcome, I know, from travelling in that cabin with my family.
The seat: I was in an aisle seat 17B in the second cabin of Club World. For a seatplan of this configuration of the B747-400, known as High –J because of the number of business class (J) seats, click here. We have reviewed the cabin many times in the last three years. Rather than repeating the advice on where to sit, click here to see the previous reviews.
We took off around 2335 and the meal service started with drinks quite some time later, around 0030. Service had started in the front cabin so that caused some delay. We had been given an Elemis amenity bag containing socks, eye mask, ear plugs, moisturiser, hand wipes, lip salve, tooth brush and tooth paste.
Menu: starters: seared tuna with lentil and grape tomato salad and dill mayonnaise dressing or buffalo mozzarella with grilled vegetable antipasto, a fresh seasonal salad. Main, slow-roasted braised beef with grilled vegetables ad mashed potatoes, sole piccata with Szechuan sauce (this was a misprint, it was actually halibut I was told, I chose it anyway), fettucine with chicken in a béchamel sauce, farfalle pasta with herb cream sauce or chilled main course salad of chorizo, calamari and goat’s cheese. Dessert: passion fruit and white chocolate cheese cake with a passion fruit couils, selected cheese with biscuits or a selection of fruit.
Wines: the full selection was Cattier Brit NV Champagne or Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV. Whites: Alexanderfontein Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Ormonde Estate, Coastal Region South Africa; Rully Premier Cru Les Gresiny 2007 Domaine Jean-Francois Protheau, Burgundy; Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Rieisling 2008, Clare Valley, South Australia or Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River, Western Australia. The ones available on this flight were the first and fourth. Reds: Saint Joseph 2006, Cave Saint-Desirat, Rhone, France’ Cheateau Beaumont 2004, Haur Medoc, Montes Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2007, Colchagua Valley, Chile and Cline Cellars “Ancient Vines” Zinfandel 2007, California.
As this is a night flight, sleep was all important, and so for the next seven or so hours I had no trouble, having reclined the seat, put on the eye mask and used the ear plugs. Waking about three hours before landing I walked up to the Club Kitchen which seemed a little bare, and had some apple juice, then relaxed back and waited for the breakfast service, only to fall asleep again, waking just in time to catch it coming past. The choice was: chilled fruit juice, an energising fruit smoothie and fresh seasonal fruit, or Birchermuesli with mango, fruit and natural yoghurts. A selection of warm breads and breakfast pastries. Main courses: classic British breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, pork sausage, mushrooms and tomato; pancake with raspberry coulis, stir-fried mung bean noodles with chicken and vegetables, served with shrimp dumpling, port dumpling and crab roe.
Arrival: we were the first to arrive at LHR just after 0430 (20 minutes early), and were on stand only 10 minutes later (satellite B), though. Only one IRIS machine was working, but I was quickly through and bags also arrived quickly. I was landside by 0500.
Verdict: an excellent flight, but what a terrible purchase BA’s AVOD IFE system was. It’s a rare flight where there aren’t some screens not working, and despite the best efforts of the staff (and an improvement overall in reliability), it’s still a very temperamental system. The new B777 will have a new IFE system apparently, but until then (and there’s no news about a retrofit of these aircraft or the B777 fleet), it seems it will continue to cause problems . Other than that, a perfect flight, and so since I wanted to work and sleep, a high mark once again, particularly for the staff.