CHECK-IN I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 0940 for my 1140 flight BA295 to Chicago. Having checked in online, I headed straight to one of the many fast bag-drop counters, which had minimal queues, then proceeded to security, which was also quiet.
BOARDING At 1105 I headed for Gate B43, taking the transit to the Satellite B building then up the escalators to the gate area. I boarded immediately and was offered a newspaper once I was settled.
THE SEAT BA’s new four-class B777-300ERs feature its upgraded World Traveller and World Traveller Plus products (see “New seats for some”, businesstraveller.com/archive/2010/october-2010). These will also be fitted to the airline’s forthcoming B787s and A380s, and will be retro-fitted on 18 of its B777-200s. First class was configured 1-2-1, business was in a 2-4-2 formation, and there were two economy cabins in a 3-3-3 layout (see seat plan).
The premium economy cabin had six rows numbered 21-26 and configured 2-4-2 (A-B, D-E-F-G, J-K). There were no seats A-B or J-K in the front row (21), this being the exit row. I had preselected seat 23B but as the seats behind me were vacant – the cabin was about a third full – I moved to 24A. The seat was comfortable and upholstered in dark blue fabric with a pale silver hard back. There was a built-in adjustable headrest and a fold-down footrest. Legroom was decent (38in/96.5cm, the same as the older product), though I felt quite constricted when the seat in front was fully reclined.
The control for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system was fitted to the shared middle armrest, from which my table folded out – this bounced a bit when I worked on a laptop. The recline button was also in this arm. The seatback screen was 10.5 inches in size, 60 per cent larger than in the older premium economy. Universal plug sockets, two USB ports and an RCA port for linking your devices to the IFE system were also built in. A blanket, pillow and an amenity pouch containing socks, an eye mask, earplugs, a toothbrush and paste, and pen were provided, along with good-quality headphones.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Seats 22A-B and J-K had the most legroom, there being no seats in front of them. Seats 21D-E-F-G, facing the bulkhead, also had more space in front. Passengers in these seats disembark first but are also closest to the washrooms in Club World (premium economy passengers were also using these, as the nearest other ones were between the two economy cabins – perhaps we shouldn’t have been, as they were behind a curtain, but we weren’t stopped from doing so, possibly because Club World was very quiet). Avoid the back row (26) as there is less space to recline and it is separated from economy only by a bulkhead partition, behind which were the bassinets.
THE FLIGHT We pushed back slightly late at 1145 and took off 20 minutes later. Half an hour after take-off, drinks and a small bag of snacks were offered, followed by a meal half an hour after that. There was a choice of chicken or beef – I had the former and it was served with celeriac mash, rosemary jus and green vegetables. It tasted fine. There was also a salad with a sachet of honey and mustard dressing, a roll and a vanilla mousse. I had a mini bottle of red wine with it – there was a choice of two and I had a Malbec, which was nice.
Service was friendly and swift – so swift, in fact, that the coffee came out while I was halfway through the meal. Juice and water were offered periodically throughout the flight. After eating, I tried out BA’s new Thales audio-video on-demand system, which has been fitted in all cabins. It’s excellent, with more than 80 movies, a wide range of TV and radio shows, games, audio books and more than 400 albums. However, I found the touchscreen wasn’t always responsive, and I had to press repeatedly to get it to work (I didn’t have this problem on my return). About 80 minutes before landing, hot towels were brought around, followed by a sandwich, Kit Kat and tea or coffee.
ARRIVAL We landed at Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 5 five minutes late at 1425. Immigration was close by and was the smoothest I have experienced in the US, with minimal queues. My bag was out quickly.
VERDICT A welcome upgrade to BA’s premium economy offering, with a comfy seat and a great entertainment system. It’s a shame it won’t be fitted on the whole long-haul fleet.
- PLANE TYPE B777-300ER
- SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2
- SEAT PITCH 38in/96.5cmSEAT WIDTH 18.5in/47cm
- PRICE Internet rates for a return premium economy flight from London Heathrow to Chicago in April started from £710.
- CONTACT ba.com