CHECK-IN I arrived at Beijing Capital International airport’s Terminal 3 at 0945, after a very short three-minute shuttle bus transfer from the Langham Place Airport hotel (for a review, click here) where I was staying. I put my luggage on a trolley and walked to check-in Zone B1-10. I had not checked in online so, after a five-minute wait, I was processed then and there, and issued with a boarding pass. Fortunately I was upgraded from economy class to World Traveller Plus (BA’s premium economy product).
There were plenty of food and beverage outlets landside but I was concerned about getting to my gate (E11) with enough time to spare before the departure of my flight at 1055, so even though I was really hungry I headed straight for security. I first had to board a shuttle service that takes passengers to the security area for Gates E1-62, and when I arrived I found there to be a lot of people waiting in a relatively small area to get through.
As there was a lack of space, it was a bit of a jumble, with people rummaging to get laptops and liquids out but it didn’t take too long and I was in the airside departures area by 1030. There was already a long line of travellers forming at Gate E11 but screens didn’t indicate that boarding had started so I scouted for somewhere I could buy a coffee and a sandwich. There were a couple of cafés and a Pizza Hut but not much else, so I ended up giving in and settling for a bottle of water while I waited for boarding to start.
BOARDING The process began via an airbridge late at 1105, with a separate fast-track lane for those in business and first, but considering I was at the back, it moved quickly and I was in my seat (15F) by 1120.
I asked a male member of crew if he could help me put my case in the overhead bin but he said he wasn’t allowed to lift anything on his own, but it would be okay if I helped him. (Health and safety versus customer service?) I thought it was fair enough so we lifted it into the locker together, and then thanked him before taking my seat and settling in. Newspapers – the Daily Mail and The Independent – were offered at 1125.
THE SEAT I had been assigned a middle seat, which would not have been my preference, but I was grateful for the upgrade nevertheless as it afforded me seven inches more legroom and an extra inch of seat width for this ten-hour 45-minute flight.
World Traveller Plus (WTP) is configured 2-4-2 (A-B, D-E-F-G, J-K) on this Mid J B747 and takes up four rows (11-16) – although there are only two seats (J-K) in rows 11 and 16 – in a section between business and first class. The royal blue seat fabric was pretty worn, and there was a footrest and seat-back pockets for magazines. The in-flight entertainment (IFE) system has audio and video on-demand.
A bi-fold tray came out of the armrest, and there was a small (6.5-inch) touchscreen on the back of the seat in front (there was also a remote was in the armrest). Noise-reducing headphones, a blanket and a basic amenity kit containing socks, an eyemask, toothbrush and paste, were provided.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Seats in row 11 offer the most legroom. Avoid middle seats E-F as you will have to climb over someone to get to the washrooms and they feel quite claustrophobic. They also have IFE boxes under them, which can get in the way. Also note that those sitting in seats 12B, 12D, 15B and 15D, may suffer some disturbance from passengers queuing for the washroom.
THE FLIGHT The aircraft pushed back after a safety demo at 1140 and took off at 1150. Once airborne, a drinks service began at 1235. I ordered a tomato juice, which came with a bag of umami-packed Worcestershire sauce flavour mini pretzels. Lunch was delivered about 30 minutes later, with my pre-ordered vegetarian meal arriving before anyone else’s.
Note that passengers who have ordered special meals aren’t usually upgraded but, at the time, premium economy food was the same as in economy on BA, so it wasn’t a problem. Since October 30, British Airways introduced new World Traveller Plus catering (including special meals) in line with that served in business class.
I considered my Mediterranean lasagna with rich tomato sauce to be really delicious, despite there being no cheese in it. My main came with a crisp side salad with Thousand Island dressing, a dense white roll, and a slice of chocolate cheesecake that was a bit too rich for me.
The lights were dimmed at 1430, and after a couple of films, I got up to stretch my legs. There were snacks in the galley for both business and premium economy passengers but I wasn’t hungry so didn’t indulge. At 1700, a member of the friendly all-female cabin crew brought around snack packs that contained muffins, crackers, savoury spread, chocolate raisins and water.
Dinner was served at 2000. It turned out to be lucky I didn’t have much of an appetite as my second pasta dish (spaghetti with tomato sauce) of the day turned out not to be vegetarian, despite it being labeled as so. Much to my disgust, there were bits of ham in it. I complained, and the attendant was apologetic but didn’t offer me anything else to make up for it. I nibbled on some Chinese apple chips that I found on my tray instead.
ARRIVAL The pilot announced that there were UK border control strikes taking place at Heathrow and warned that there may be long queues. He also said that the time lost as a consequence of our late departure had been made up on the way by flying faster so landing was on time at 1500. Disembarkation was speedy and immigration turned out to be unproblematic.
VERDICT A mix of good and bad experiences – although the flight was late departing, we landed on time, and I had one very enjoyable meal, and one awful meal (meat in the vegetarian option). The service was also a bit hit and miss. Overall, though, it was fine. I was upgraded, which was a welcome bonus, and the border control strikes had no negative impact.
SEAT PITCH 38in/96.5cm
SEAT WIDTH 18.5in/47cm
SEAT RECLINE 7in/18cm
PRICE Internet rates for a return flight from London to Beijing in premium economy started from £1,246 in February.