Tried & Tested

Flight review: British Airways B747-400 Club World

24 Nov 2017 by Tom Otley
BA new CW Bedding

Background

British Airways is in the process of rolling out a new food and beverage service in Club World. At the moment it is only on the London Heathrow to New York JFK route, but gradually it will be added to North American routes starting with Boston and Washington, and then through 2018 moving to all routes and then Gatwick.

The first review of this service, on a day flight from London Heathrow, is below…

Flight review: B747-400 British Airways Club World

This review should be read after that one.

You need to be a subscriber to do so.

The magazine is a great read, and if you disagree please make suggestions as to what you’d like to read in it and I will reply.

The first review focuses to a greater extent on the new food service being offered on the route and which will be gradually introduced throughout the long haul network for business class passengers.

This review concentrates on the overnight flight back from New York JFK, and so is not about the food (I didn’t eat any apart from a light breakfast). Instead, it is about the new White Company products on board, and the plans for sleeper services.

British Airways has several flights back from JFK in the evening, and we were on one of the last departures – the 2235 BA114.

This service is for people who want a full day in New York (or have had one anyway), and many of them will have either eaten in the city or used one of the British Airways lounges at Terminal 7 JFK when they got to the airport. There are several of these including the Galleries lounge (for business class travellers and for silver card holders) and the First lounge (for gold card holders), and also the Concorde Room (for those flying First or with a Concorde Room card). We’ve reviewed these lounges previously, and since they are about to be renovated, I haven;t included another review here.

Boarding:

Boarding was at Gate 3. We were on what British Airways (internally at least) refers to as a super high-J B747-400 with 86 business class seats. These seats are spread between three areas – upstairs, and two cabins downstairs, a smaller one towards the front and a larger one where I was sitting in row 22 (22K).

White Company bedding

The new bedding was waiting at the seat. This consists of a large pillow and a smaller pillow, and then a large bag in which is the mattress topper (undersheet), duvet and blanket. You don’t keep this with you for take-off (there’d be nowhere to sit if you did), so the flight attendants come round and try and find somewhere in the overhead locker to put them. I had hand luggage only – so a wheelie back and a back pack, but the overhead lockers were fairly full with all the White Company products up there by the time we were ready for take-off.  I do wonder if this will be a problem on other aircraft types, or other flights depending on how much hand luggage business class passengers bring on, but time will tell.

The socks are more like ankle socks, and personally I’d prefer them a little longer. They just about cover your ankles but not much else, but the eyemasks are an improvement with more padding and a softer feel to them.

The pillow is great – and you can keep this with you if you jam it in next to you. I had been talking with some of the people at The White Company about the trials for the pillow, and was told that at one point some of the blankets and pillows were in a slightly darker shade, but then they were hard to see in the aisles if they fell there and might cause a tripping hazard.

As you can imagine, everything had to go through various tests not only for how long they last, but whether they were safe to be on an aircraft.

The White Company pillow

Before take-off, we were also handed The White Company amenity bag which has the normal products in, including toothbrush and toothpaste, that soft and lovely eye mask and ear plugs. It also has some White Company lip balm, moisturiser and something that looks like a lip balm but is in fact something that’s supposed to help you sleep called Pulse Point comprising lavender, sage and peppermint.

I was offered champagne, water and juice, and there was an announcement about breakfast which gives passengers the option of filling in a breakfast card. Bottles of water were handed out, which is important because if you are planning on sleeping you want it somewhere close to hand if you wake during the night.

The captain told us the flight time would be six hours and five minutes.

On a flight such as this, the majority of passengers want to maximise the time they can sleep. Some want to go straight to sleep – and with a flight time of just over six hours, it means probably a maximum of five hours sleep given you have to wait until after take off the recline the seat into a bed and have at least 30 minutes sitting up before landing at Heathrow – and some want to have a drink and maybe something small to eat before sleep.

There is, however, the possibility of having a larger meal – and I’ve listed them below.

Unlike earlier departures, once we had pushed back, we had only a short taxi out to the runway and then were quickly away.

White Company amenity bag - and my laptop

 

The flight

The menu offering was:

Starters:

  • Tomato and smoked aubergine tartare, feta cheese and hummus crème fraiche
  • Caramelised pea soup

Fresh seasonal salad, olive oil balsamic vinegar dressing

Mains

  • Grilled lamb chops, polenta spinach crespelle, Mediterranean ratatouille
  • Medley of char-grilled fish, lemon caper butter, rosemary roasted potatoes and buttered baby spinach
  • Garganelli pasta, wild mushrooms, roasted pumpkin and creamy Parmesan sauce.
  • Blueberry lemon cheesecake
  • Warm almond sponge pudding, raspberry ragout Breeze cheddar, grapes, walnuts and apple cranberry chutney.
  • Cheese board: Valdeon, mini brie, Prairie

The wines were the same choice we had on the way out the previous day.

Wines

Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain NV, Champagne de Castlenau Brut Reserve NV, and Brut Rose NV

Whites

  • Gavi del Comune di Gavi 2016, DOCG “Masseria dei Carmelitani”, Piemonte, Italy
  • Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2017, W.O Cape Town, South Africa

Reds

  • Hahn Winery Pinot Noir 2016, Monterey, California
  • Teusner “The Riebke” Shiraz 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Sleeping

Once in the air the seatbelts signs were switched off and I retrieved the bedding from the overhead locker.

In the large bag there is a mattress topper, a duvet, and a blanket. None of this is difficult to lay out, though its worth taking a little time to do the mattress topper properly or otherwise it quickly becomes dislodged.

I reclined the seat, put down the footrest, made my bed and using the new eye mask from the White Company and some ear plugs went to sleep. Criticism of this Club World seat ranges from lack of direct aisle access (true) to it being very narrow (not something that bothers me, although the lack of space for laying out personal items and the strange location of the plug charger is annoying). For sleeping, however, I like it, especially if in window seat, and I slept from 2300 to about 0345, which was 0745 in the UK, since for this particular week there was only a four hour time difference between London and New York.

When I woke I could have gone back to sleep, but instead went through to the galley, had some fresh orange juice and had a chat with the flight attendants. They told me how proud they were of the new White Company bedding and the food service on the outward bound flights. I asked how many passengers had eaten on this return flight. The answer was “Not many” because it was such a late departure.

I had asked for only a hot drink on my breakfast choice but now changed this to the full breakfast, though I only had fruit, pastries and tea and not the hot options listed below, because I was heading to the arrivals lounge at Heathrow for a shower and put on a suit for morning appointments in London and so could eat there. The choices were

  • Chilled orange juice
  • Smoothie of mango, passion fruit and buttermilk
  • Seasonal fruit
  • Bacon, egg and cheese panini
  • Welsh rarebit toastie

And a selection of assorted breakfast pastries

Arrival

We arrived on time into Heathrow (at satellite B), and after taking the shuttle train back to the main terminal, had no trouble at the immigration gates and was quickly through airside. I then used the arrivals lounge to have a showr, have my suit and shirt pressed and to get a full breakfast before going into town for a lunchtime meeting (the ground-breaking of the new Peninsula London).

Peninsula London ground-breaking

Verdict

This service is exactly what an overnight from the U.S should be – well rehearsed, efficient, and ticking all the boxes for what you need to get a good night’s sleep before another day at the office. You can dine before you get on board, maximise your sleep time and then at the other end use the arrivals lounge if you need to freshen up or are hungry.

Of course for critics of British Airways in general, or the Club World seat in particular, no amount of service improvements (or enhancements as they refer to them, echoing previous marketing from the airline) will redeem the deficiencies of no direct aisle access and lack of room in the seat.

That’s a shame, because this is a great way of getting to and from the U.S, and as the bedding rolls out (pun intended) I think regulars in the Club World cabin will welcome it.  The flight attendants are also happy to have something new to present, or they were on the flights we were on. The mattress topper is a nice touch, and does add to the comfort of the seat/bed, and the pillow is excellent.

As for the promised new business class seat, don’t get excited. It won’t appear until 2019, and it is only on the A350 so far. It certainly won’t be appearing on these B747-400s, and they will be around for several years to come. As for the B787 fleet and B777 and A380s, perhaps eventually it will be retrofitted, but I doubt it. In the meantime (otherwise known as the foreseeable future), these improvements are to be welcomed, as will be the changes to the Concorde Room and dining options at Terminal 7 JFK.

britishairways.com

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