This is a review of the inaugural flight of the British Airways A350-1000 aircraft on the London Heathrow to Dubai International route. I had previously flown short haul on this aircraft to Madrid, but this was the opportunity to experience it on a long-haul, seven hour flight to Dubai.
I recorded a video review of the flight, so if you think that would be useful to watch, it is below.
British Airways has ordered 18 A350-1000 aircraft, with the deliveries coming between now and 2022. The aircraft is configured for 331 passengers in three classes, with 219 economy class seats, 56 premium economy and 56 business class seats. The British Airways A350-1000 seat plan is available online.
I arrived at Heathrow at 0945 for my 1250 departure on BA107 to Dubai. Check-in was swift, and I was quickly airside.
The flight was departing from satellite B at Heathrow T5, so after spending time in the lounge in the main terminal I took the shuttle over to B where we were boarding at gate 34. We have reviewed many of the lounges at Heathrow – reviews are at businesstraveller.com
Boarding was by groups, with gold card and business class passengers going on first. I was quickly to my seat, stowed my luggage, my jacket was taken from me and I was offered a choice of water or champagne. The White Company amenity bag was also presented, which is the standard black one in business class on British Airways, having a White Company lip balm, pulse point ‘pen’ for relaxation, and moisturiser, as well as eye mask, socks, ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste and a pen.
The Club Suite seating is in two cabins: a larger front cabin and a small rear cabin. The front cabin is rows 1-11 while the smaller cabin is rows 15-17; there are washrooms and a galley between them. The configuration in business class is 1-2-1 (A, E-F, K), to replace the 2-4-2 of the existing Club World seat. All seats are forward-facing and at an angle to maximise privacy with the window seats angled towards the windows, while the two central seats are angled towards one another, with a privacy divider between them.
The seat has an attractive design, with a colour scheme not unlike the current First seat. There is a normal waist belt but for take-off and landing an additional shoulder belt is required, though this is easy to operate and demonstrated by the flight attendants.
There are plenty of places to store items, and these are available both for take-off and landing. Starting at shoulder height there is a compartment which opens to reveal a vanity mirror – this would be a good place to store the provided noise-cancelling headphones.
Next is a side table area which has a further two storage compartments, each with lids. The first is quite small, but would hold a phone and some other items. The second is larger and is where the handheld control for the inflight entertainment is and also the power – one socket which takes EU, US and UK plugs, and two USB slots.
There is then another area just below knee height which is ideal for water bottles – and also in a good position for accessing them when the seat is reclined. Finally, you can store items under the ottoman seat, so I put my backpack under there. You can store a small bag there for take-off and landing, I am told, though I can imagine larger items would not be allowed.
Controlling the position of the seat is easy, with a choice of three pre-sets (take off/ landing, reclined and bed) and then a screen that allows more minor adjustments. The arm rest can go up and down on one side, depending on personal preference.
The doors to the suites are all secured open for take-off, and then cabin crew come round to release them so you have the option of shutting them. The doors shut almost completely, you can fit a finger in the gap but not much else, and I was told this was to stop them rattling and to allow for a flow of air in and around the seat, since there are no gasper air vents above the seat.
As you’d expect from an A350, there’s plenty of light in the cabin, and the overhead lockers have been designed so there’s plenty of headroom and as a result the seat doesn’t feel claustrophobic. The walls and door of the seat are such that even when sitting upright, I would have struggled to make eye contact with anyone even while turning my head and attempting it, yet they are not so high as to make you feel closed in. In fact, for people in the centre seats, the overhead lockers are so deep that if you are not tall you may end up having to stand on the arm rest to get your bags from these overhead bins.
The IFE screen is a good size, and works both by touching it or using the handheld. It is close enough that you can operate the touchscreen without leaning forward too much, but I found the screen to not be very responsive, and had to press quite hard to get it to move around the menu, so used the handheld. There is wifi on board, and the price was £17.99 for 150MB, which is pretty expensive and very easy to exhaust if you are working. There was also a streaming option which was more expensive.
The table is recessed beneath the IFE screen and BA is proud of the fact that it goes under the IFE screen completely, giving you more space when you are not using it and meaning your knees don’t hit the edge of it when you are reclined and eating. I found the table awkward to use, though. It has a catch to release it and then it comes out halfway, but if you try and unfold it at that point, in some seats (1A for instance) it catches its edge on the bottom of the screen. For that seat (and perhaps others) you have to slide it fully out, then unfold it, and then push it back to this position.
In addition, once it has been unfolded and food put on it, you can only adjust it by reaching under the seat and activating the catch again to adjust it further. This isn’t easy to do, though over the course of a couple of flights I have just about got the hang of it. I expect a minority of passengers will end up wearing their inflight meals while getting accustomed to this, but perhaps I am just clumsy.
Previously I had flown in the front cabin in seat 1A, the front seat on the aircraft. This time I was in the right at the rear of the second, smaller cabin, in 17A. This smaller cabin at the back has some advantages – it’s more intimate, but there’s also the chance that you get babies in the bassinet seats at the front of the cabin, and so it proved on this flight. It’s not the time to get into the babies in business class debate, but this can make a significant difference to your flight if you have a distressed (or just badly-behaved) child or children on the flight. And we did.
If you are travelling with someone and want to talk with them, then you will need to choose the centre seats, because it is difficult to hold a conversation across the aisle, not just because of the angle of the seats but also because of the new privacy door, which even when open cuts off you view of the other seat. I’m sure this is how it has been designed, and it means privacy is good even when the door is open, and of course that would be the case for take-off and landing when it is fixed by the flight attendants in that opened position.
One point about 17A and 17K is that it has only one window (a good one, which gives you a view along the wing) but there is a second window directly behind your IFE screen. This means it can be quite awkward to watch the IFE if that blind is open, but to shut it you almost have to ask the person sitting in 16A since it is one of their windows.
Before take off we were all told to use the shoulder belt in the seat. This was very new to most passengers around me, and took a lot of explaining. I should also say that since the crew didn’t remind them to use it for landing, most forgot. We took off on time and the crew were quickly around to take orders for drinks and then, slightly later, for food.
I wanted to work, and the suite is good for that with plenty of room to spread out. There are two charging points by the side of the seat inside the middle compartment – a USB socket, and then, on the other side, an AC plug with a USB above it. Unfortunately, this second plug and USB wasn’t working, and despite having the seat reset (along with the IFE) the crew were unable to make it work, meaning I had to be quite careful to make my laptop battery last until I had completed my work.
The food service started promptly, about an hour into the flight. The menu follows.
Starters: Severn and Wye Scottish smoked salmon with Burford Browns’ hen egg, dill crème fraiche, pumpernickel; a meze plate of butter bean tomato salad, minted beetroot, grilled aubergine labneh, sweet potato kibbeh, smoky Salamanca olives; some carrot and coriander soup, and a fresh seasonal salad.
Main courses: grilled chicken with roasted vegetable, freekeh, dakkous sauce; seared fillet of British beef, Lyonnaise potatoes, sautéed chestnut mushrooms, shallot and rosemary sauce or a paneer with sweet potato, cauliflower and chickpea korma with jasmine rice. I had the meze plate and the curry, with the starter being tasty and the curry delicious.
Desserts: baked chocolate tart, lemon and lime slice, warm mixed nuts and dulce de leche flan, blueberries and raspberries and a cheese board with Butler’s Secret Cheddar, Cenarth brie, Stilton, all served with walnuts, biscuits, sweet apple and Croxton chutney. I just had the berries.
- Champagne: Canard-Duchene ‘Cuvee-Leonie” Brut NV; Champagne Besserat de Bellefon Grande Tradition Brut rose
- White wines: Glen Carlou Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Cape Town, South Africa; La Chablisienne La Sereine 2016, Chablis, France, Cape Town Wine Company Sauvignon Blanc 2018 South Africa
- Red wines: Glenelly “Glass Collection” Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa, Teanum Otre Primitivo 2018, Puglia, Italy
- There was also a wide choice of spirits and beers
Service was friendly and informal, with the young staff – members of British Airways ‘Mixed Fleet’ avoiding the ‘sir’ and ‘madam” of past. I might have missed the offer of a bottle of water and so went to the Club Kitchen when I got thirsty and ended up eating far too much chocolate and bringing back a half empty large bottle of water which I drank for the remainder of the flight.
I wasn’t tired, but to try out the seat I asked a flight attendant to convert the seat into a bed and then lay down. The seat is comfortable as a bed, and the shoulder strap is unnoticeable. It is quite tight at the shoulders, even with one of the arm rests down, but I’d be happy having a good sleep in the seat.
As we approached Dubai, despite it now being (with the time difference) 2200, we were offered afternoon tea. This was sandwiches and scones. The sandwiches were:
- peppered pastrami, whole-grain mustard gherkin dressing, Emmental cheese on a faccacina roll
- Hot smoked Scottish salmon, seasoned soft cheese, fresh dill and lemon dressing, cucumber, wild rocket on a bar-marked tortilla wrap
- Brie, wild mountain cranberry sauce, rocket leaves on a charcoal roll.
I didn’t want any of this, and so just had some mint tea.
About 40 minutes before landing, the captain came on to tell us we had started out descent and almost immediately we were shown the Comic Relief videos and my jacket was returned to me.
We had no problems landing and were quickly off the aircraft.
(Video of Alex Cruz discussing the new seat – Verdict follows)
This is an excellent seat which addresses all the problems of the existing Club World seat. It offers direct aisle access to every passenger, has privacy – unlike the current one you don’t have to make eye contact with anyone, and it is comfortable for sitting, working and sleeping.
I hope it is robust, there are certainly teething problems with it at the moment, but perhaps that’s to be expected with the first delivery. I also hope that instructions are given more clearly with regard to the shoulder seat belt and how to use the table, for instance. Otherwise this is a good move.
Much of the long-haul fleet will eventually get the new seats, but it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. New deliveries of these A350s will have the new seats, and the B777 fleet will be gradually retrofitted, but it will take a long time, and for flyers on routes such as New York who are currently flying on the B747-400, well, it isn’t going to happen until those aircraft are retired, and that might be as late as 2024.
Still, that’s a problem all airlines with large fleets face – just look at United and its glacial roll out of its new Polaris seat.
SEAT WIDTH 21 inches
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
BED LENGTH 79 inches
FLIGHT DURATION 7 hours