CHECK-IN The drive from the ITC Grand Chola hotel, where I was staying, to Chennai airport was quick at this time of night (0100) as there wasn’t much traffic so I arrived by 0120. Staff asked to see a print-out of my ticket and passport to gain entry to the terminal and, once inside, a member of BA staff directed me to the nearby check-in area. Desks 18-24 were dedicated to British Airways – 18 and 19 for Club World, 20 and21 for bag-drop and 22 to 24 for World Traveller Plus and economy.
There were about a dozen people ahead of me so it took about 30 minutes to be processed. While waiting, a member of staff handed out hand-baggage tags that would later need to be stamped to show they had been checked at security. My luggage was weighed and tagged and a boarding pass issued. It was then a case of queuing 15 minutes for immigration, followed by another ten for security, which was not the most professional of processes – I saw oversized bottles of water being allowed through and confiscated scissors and other items discarded on the floor underneath a security guard’s chair.
Men and women were assigned separate lanes and screening areas, and I was given a quick pat down before being allowed through. The entire airport was pretty dirty and ramshackle, but a new terminal is due to open next door and there is a big renovation and expansion project underway, which will no doubt be a huge improvement.
BOARDING I took a seat in the airside departures area and waited for my 0400 flight to be called. The boarding process began at 0315, with business class and parents and children called first, followed by economy class passengers from the back row forwards. I headed for Gate 3 at 0330 and, after boarding passes and passports were checked by three sets of people, was allowed to enter the airbridge. Here, there was another security screening for randomly selected passengers. I was one of them and my hand-luggage was given a light check and I was subjected to another quick pat down.
THE SEAT I was in my seat (13J) by 0345 and found a fleece blanket, pair of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones and amenity kit provided. (It contained a charity envelope for loose change, socks, toothbrush and paste, pen, eyemask and earplugs.) The cabin doors closed at 0400 and as there were still quite a few empty seats in World Traveller Plus, I was able to move to aisle seat 12G, behind the bulkhead separating the cabin from Club World. This meant I had more space for my legs to stretch out in and the added bonus of no one sitting next to me.
On this aircraft, there are three rows of World Traveller Plus (premium economy) – 12, 13 and 14 – with seats configured 2-4-2 (A-B, D-E-F-G, J-K). (Click here to see the seat plan) The product was upholstered in blue fabric and had fixed-wing headrests, tray tables that slide out of the armrest (stable for typing on) and small (6-6.5-inch) audio-video on-demand screens. In row 12, these slide up from the front of the armrest instead of being fixed to the back of the seat in front. There was good lumbar support and a decent recline (7in/17.7cm).
British Airways’ new World Traveller Plus is available on the B777-300ER operating on selected flights to and from Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York JFK, Shanghai and Tokyo Narita. It will also be introducing the new cabin on to a number of B777-200s and B767s in the coming year.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Seats in row 12, just behind the bulkhead separating it from Club World, have the most legroom, particularly the middle four seats, with the two by the aisle (12D and 12G) being preferable. Avoid sitting in row 14 as you can suffer some disturbance from crying babies in the bassinets directly behind in economy, and middle seats E and F in row 13 and 14 as these feel the most cramped. I was also pleased to be in 12G as I got served food and drink first.
THE FLIGHT Take-off was delayed by 40 minutes because of some paperwork that needed completing but we were cruising by 0450. During the flight I was also quite cold so was glad of the extra blanket on the free seat next to me and the extra socks. At 0500, the meal service began. There was a choice of full English breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon, pork sausage, mushrooms and hash browns, or vegetarian south Indian, consisting of fried potato croquettes, vegetable and lentil stew, steamed pancake and rice dumpling.
I went for the latter, which was decent enough. The china dish of food was served with the foil on so I had to unwrap it but it was nice and hot. The tray also came with metal cutlery, a plastic bowl of four small slices of tropical fruit, a cup of concentrated orange juice, a 250ml bottle of water, a white roll, margarine, and a pain au chocolate. I was hungry so ate most of it. Tea and coffee was offered after but no drink to begin with and no alcohol in sight.
Trays were collected at 0550. Crew were not particularly friendly – they just seemed to want to get the meal service out of the way, and the washrooms were not very clean – there water was all over the floor and there were no paper towels left towards the end of the flight.
I managed to sleep on and off for about six hours until the cabin lights came back on at 1200. A snack box containing shortbread, chocolate raisins, a muffin, Mediterranean spread, crackers and a cup of water had been placed next to me. I watched a film for the remaining portion of the flight (about 2.5 hours), with a light meal being served at 1300. This was vegetable curry, rice and dahl, a pot of yogurt, and some kind of Indian spiced dessert. (There was also a meat option.) A small bottle of water and tea or coffee was provided. We started our descent into London at 1415.
ARRIVAL After a flight of just over ten hours, we landed at Heathrow at 1430 (0900) local time. There was a ten-minute taxi to the Terminal 5 and disembarkation via an airbridge was quick. After a seven-minute walk to immigration, I found no one to be waiting for the e-gates so was able to pass straight through, and when I arrived at baggage reclaim a couple of minutes later, my case appeared almost immediately.
VERDICT This is not BA’s newest premium economy product but I was happy with my bulkhead seat, which had a good amount of legroom and no one sitting next to me. The service could have been better but I was glad that the plane landed a little ahead of schedule despite a delay to take-off.
PRICE Internet rates for a return World Traveller Plus flight from London to Chennai in December ranged between £916 and £2,675 depending on flexibility.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2 (A-B, D-E-F-G, J-K)
SEAT WIDTH 18.5in/47cm
SEAT PITCH 38in/96.5cm
SEAT RECLINE 7in/17.7cm