CHECK-IN I arrived by Tube at 1820 with plenty of time to spare until my 2140 flight to Dubai from Heathrow Terminal 5, and took the lift up to the departures level, turning right to walk all the way down to check-in Zone H, which is assigned to business class passengers. I had already checked-in online within 24 hours of my flight, and changed my assigned seat from 13C to 10G. (Had there been any window seats left I would have chosen one of them, but there weren’t and I didn’t want to pay for assigned seat, which I would have had to do if I’d checked in earlier). I then had my boarding pass sent to my phone.
As I needed to check in a suitcase, I joined one of the short lines for a staffed desk and was seen to within a couple of minutes. My case was priority tagged, I was issued with a paper boarding pass and then instructed to use the Galleries South lounge on the other side. I walked to fast-track security opposite but was told it was too busy and I should go all the way down to the North side security area, which I did. I then went through the automatic fast-track channel here (there is an area to bag up 100ml bottles of liquids, and then scan your boarding pass to get through the gate), and then joined one of the short queues for screening. Laptops came out and belts off as usual. I was airside by 1840.
THE LOUNGE The Galleries Club South lounge is at the far right of the terminal and accessed by a couple of sets of escalators. It was busy, but the huge venue had plenty of seating in a variety of arrangements – sofas, armchairs looking out on to the tarmac, high-stools at counters, glossy white communal dining tables and leather banquettes. The décor is smart and contemporary, with a palette of muted greys and browns, complemented by black, white and navy.
There are numerous refreshment stations serving coffee, wine, soft drinks and spirits (including jugs of Pimms for Wimbledon), and a generous self-service station for food. As I have experienced in the past, the selection included soup, pasta, Thai vegetable curry, baked potatoes (with cheese/beans/tuna mayo), creamy chicken, bolognese, rice, salad, quinoa, cheese and cold cuts. It was busy and the forks had run out so I had to stand around for a couple of minutes while a member of staff got me one, but the quality was good.
Wifi is free, there is a generous selection of magazines and papers (including Business Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Bloomberg, Sphere, High Life, I, Telegraph and Mail). A business centre has more than 20 PCs, along with printers and scanners. Flight departures are shown on screens around the facility. There was also a cinema with a large flatscreen TV playing a game show. Staff worked hard to clear tables and top up glasses and bottles in the refreshment zones.
BOARDING As advised by the lounge staff, I headed to my gate (32B) at 2100, taking the escalators back down to the departures concourse and then taking the lift down to the shuttle train on level -2. I then had to take another couple of sets of escalators up to Gate 32B and then, once I had shown my boarding pass and passport, take another set down to where I then boarded the plane via an airbridge. I was in my seat by 2120.
THE SEAT The four-class B777-200 is configured 2-4-2 (A-C, D-E-F-G, J-K) across Club World, which is made up on the yin yang arrangement of fixed shell fully-flat beds. Aisle seats don’t get much storage space for small things/bottled water except in shoe drawer. Noise-cancelling headphones (though I used my own), an amenity kit (containing an eye mask, socks, toothbrush and paste, Elemis moisturiser, lip balm, facial wipe, ear plugs and eye gel), a blanket, pillow and water were all provided. There is also in-seat power. Tray tables fold out of side of the fixed shell wall beneath the IFE screen but I found it to be a bit bouncy for typing on. The touchscreen IFE (there is also a remote in the panel by your shoulder) had a very good choice of movies and also folded out of the wall. A sliding screen lift ups and down between the seats to provide privacy and allow food and drink to be served to the person in the window seat more easily.
I opted for 10G as although it was an aisle seat it meant I wouldn’t have anyone climbing over me in the night as it was at the front of the cabin. The downside was that it suffered from being in full view of the galley so didn’t feel so private. I would have preferred a window seat. The armrests are a bit wobbly but sink down when you recline the seat to allow for extra width. Seats are upholstered in navy fabric and recline fully flat to meet with a fold-down adjustable footrest in front. (There is no lumbar support though.) Bags need to be stowed in the overhead lockers for take-off and landing.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I felt a little exposed in my aisle seat, especially as it was so close to the galley and washrooms. I thought they might close the curtain during the flight but they didn’t. Couples should go for the backward-facing middle pairs (E-F), whereas solo travellers should opt for either forward-facing aisle seats or backward-facing window seats depending on their preference.
Seats C, D, G and J feel less private as the sides of them are open to the aisle, whereas window seats (A or K) are enclosed. Note that if you sit here you will have to climb over the legs of the person in the aisle seat behind to get out (assuming they have reclined the bed fully flat). Sitting in the back row, however, will mean you aren’t faced with this problem. Avoid aisle seats in row ten as the proximity to the washrooms and galley can be bothersome.
THE FLIGHT The aircraft started taxiing at 2130 and there was a safety demo on the IFE screen at 2135. Take-off was a little delayed as a passenger had decided not to board at the last minute and his or her baggage had to be off-loaded. Hot towels and a choice of champagne (Taittinger Brut Reserve NV), water and orange juice were offered, and menus handed out. Take-off was at 2155. A second drinks service began at 2230, and trays of starters and desserts handed out.
There was only one option for the starter, and this was a tomato, Kalamata olive and green bean salad with saffron potatoes and quails eggs. It wasn’t the nicest flavour/texture combination with the slightly soggy green beans and little chunks of watery tomato and nothing to really unify it all. Orders for main meals were also taken and there was a choice of warm foccacia and brown bread. I was offered a choice of two wines – Langmeil Blacksmith cabernet sauvignon, 2010, Barossa, South Australia and Weemala pinot gris, 2012, Orange, NSW, Australia.
The main courses were of halal shish taouk of marinated chicken with vermicelli rice and turmeric-fried vegetables; seared fillet of British beef with barbecue sauce, spicy potato wedges and Mediterranean vegetables; and penne pasta with red pepper pesto, basil and chilli sauce, courgetter and piquillo peppers. Again this sounds nicer than it was – the pasta was a little overcooked but was decent enough.
A selection of cheese (Barber’s Cheddar and Somerset Camembert with quince jelly and biscuits), fresh fruit, vanilla and mango ice cream, or hot chocolate with warm chocolate chip cookies was also available to finish with but I didn’t have room for any of it. Those wanting a quick bite before sleeping could order a toasted steak sandwich with horseradish relish, baby spinach and piquillo peppers served with a seasonal salad. And for anyone hungry during the night, the Club Kitchen offered additional snacks.
Most sensible people were asleep by this point given the short flight time of just six hours 35 minutes on this night service but I wasn’t tired so watched a film and finished the meal with a peppermint tea at 1150. Cabin lights went out at 0010. At 0015 I reclined the bed fully flat and made up my bed with the pillow and cotton coverlet. (There was no sheet though.) I slept soundly until 0315 when the breakfast service began. I felt surprisingly refreshed so got up, adjusting the seat to upright mode, and accepting a tray with fruit salad, tea, orange juice and a smoothie. I declined the pastry selection though.
ARRIVAL Landing in Dubai was at 0435 (0735 local time) and disembarkation via an airbridge at the front of the plane was very quick and efficient. Upon exiting, a pre-arranged member of airport ground staff was waiting for me with a sign and led me to immigration, about 15 minutes’ walk away (this was speeded up by a buggy transfer for some of it). There were no lines at passport control so I was straight through and into baggage reclaim. My case appeared within eight minutes and an additional member of Marhaba ground staff helped load it on to a cart and walk me through customs to my car outside.
VERDICT A very good business class flight – efficient crew, a comfortable flat bed and good choice of films on the IFE system. It was a shame I didn’t have longer to enjoy it all but on a night flight of this length (less than seven hours) sleep is the priority and, fortunately, I got a refreshing three hours. The Galleries Club lounge at LHR T5 was also a pleasure to experience and had a very good food offering.
CONFIGURATION 2-4-2 (A-C, D-E-F-G, J-K)
SEAT WIDTH 25in/63.5
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
SEAT LENGTH 72in/183cm
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Dubai in August ranged between £2,188 and £4,744 depending on flexibility.