FIRST IMPRESSIONS I had checked in online for my BA168 1055 departure from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport the previous day). I could not print out my boarding pass at my hotel and so elected to collect it at the airport, where I arrived at 0940. There was no queue at Zone E in Terminal 2 and I was quickly through the immigration and security checks.
THE LOUNGE The lounge at Pudong Airport is one of those referred to on ba.com as “Third Party” which from experience can often equate to “Third Rate”, but this one by Gate 77 was excellent. It is on the first floor level and looks down at gates 77 and 79 – where the BA flight was departing from, and reminded me of the BA lounge at Hong Kong. I had a quick bite to eat and then went down to the Gate when boarding commenced, slightly late, at 1030.
BOARDING There were two queues for boarding with families being given priority in one queue while Club World and First boarded in the other. Once on board my jacket was taken and I was offered newspapers (from the day before) and a drink (champagne, orange juice or water). There was a delay before takeoff, with the captain explaining that air traffic control had requested that we wait, and we eventually took off at 1130.
THE SEAT This is a four class flight (first, business, premium economy and economy). We boarded by the front doors, walking through first class to find the Club World cabin. I was in a rear facing centre seat – 14F. For seatplans click here and to compare the different seating specifications between those classes, click here.
This was a return flight from Shanghai, to read the outward leg of the journey (but in premium economy), click here.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The advantage of sitting in these centre seats is that when you recline your seat you have no one stepping over you and possibly disturbing you. The worst thing about the aisle seats in my view is having an entire meal service (for the person sitting in a centre seat) passed over you. Still, these centre seats necessitate stepping over someone to get access to the aisle, which isn’t easy if they have left all their bags around the ottoman foot rest. You also end up lying next to a stranger when it’s time to sleep, but after a couple of trips in Club World you get used to this.
THE FLIGHT A word on the service on this flight. I thought the crew in the Club World cabin were excellent, because if you listen to how many passengers (predominantly middle-aged men) treat them it’s amazing they come out of the galley at all. Two examples: While the Flight attendant (FA) was pushing my boarding pass stub over the coat hanger so he’d be able to identify my jacket at the end of the trip, a passenger who’d just got on thrust his own jacket at him and accompanied the movement with a request for a newspaper. “I’ll be with you in a moment just as soon as I’ve finished attending to this passenger” was the smooth response. Or the passenger who assumed that Club World meant he could have all his luggage with him at all times including take off and then refused to put it into the overhead cabin, expecting the FA to do it for him. Since common courtesy isn’t going to be persuasive, look at it this way: Club World is expensive, but if you want to get value for money, the best way is to smile when asking for something and not treat the crew as if they have unaccountably forgotten they were born into servitude and need reminding of the fact.
The meal service commenced at 1210 with the drinks. The wine choice, interestingly, was exactly the same as I had seen on a Club World trip to and from Hong Kong a fortnight earlier. It was as follows: Champagne: Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top and Cattier Brut (located in the village of Chigny-les-Roses on the Montagne de Reims). Whites: Zevenwacht Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Rully Premier Cru Les Gresigny 2007, Tamar Ridge, Kayena Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Tasmania and Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River. Only the first Rully and the Margaret River Chardonnay were available. Reds were Glaetzer Wallace Shiraz Grenache 2006, Barossa Valley; Thelema Shiraz 2006 Stellenbosch, Chateau Beaumont 2004, Haut Medoc or Tim Adams Cabernet 2005, Clare Valley. I chose the Margaret River which the purser told me was nice and cold, and indeed it was close to freezing.
The food options were: Starters - Salmon gravlax with a lemon olive oil or grilled courgette with arugula lettuce, the fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette (and if this is your first time in Club World, use this sparingly, it is extremely sharp). Main courses - grilled fillet of beef with black pepper butter and potatoes au gratin, breast of duck confit with morello cherry sauce, prawns in a light coconut sauce with fresh spinach and penne pasta, pumpkin and feat cannelloni. Finally there was the “Well being in the air” option of a chilled main course salad of roast Mediterranean vegetables, Buffalo Mozzerella and sun-blushed tomatoes. I heard the traveller in 14G ask for this only to be told it had run out, but I inquired all the same and was told only two had been put on board, so instead went for the prawns. Dessert was chocolate and pecan tart, selected cheese with biscuits or a selection of fruit.
Having travelled a fair bit with BA in the past few months, there wasn’t anything on the IFE system I wanted to watch, so I relaxed back and soon fell asleep, waking after about four hours to walk up to the Club Kitchen to start feasting on chocolate (same basket as the fruit, so no contest there) and chatting with the crew for a while. They said this particular set of Club World passengers were no problem at all.
About two hours before landing we were served a light meal. The choice was starters - prawn and crab timbale with shiso wasabi dressing or grilled asparagus with cracked black pepper and lemon dressing. The main course - chicken with cashew nuts, roast cod with a lemon, caper and butter sauce or four cheese tortellini with artichokes in tomato sauce. I had the chicken, which was fairly awful, rubbery and fatty, in a kind of black bean gravy. There was also a selection of herbal tea including green tea with jasmine, peppermint, blackcurrant and camomile with honey, but by now I was drinking red wine again.
ARRIVAL We landed at 1550 but then had to wait because there was an aircraft on our stand. I didn’t mind this so much because on the flight out we had been bussed to the aircraft, so waiting for a bridge was preferable. In the end it was quite a long wait, and we only disembarked at 1615. There was a reasonably long journey back to the main terminal (we had arrived at Satellite B, so had to take the shuttle to A), but the bags were waiting for us when we reached the carousel.
VERDICT Once again, excellent. At a time when BA seems only to inspire negative headlines (threatened strikes, huge losses etc...) it’s refreshing to focus on all the things it gets right.
PRICE A mid-week return in November from ba.com starts at £2,842.