BACKGROUND When Bmi ceased flying from Manchester to Las Vegas earlier this year, it left Virgin Atlantic as the only airline offering a direct UK service to the US city, from London Gatwick. Now British Airways has stepped into the breach, offering a daily flight to McCarran International airport from Heathrow using B777 aircraft fitted with the airline’s newer fully-flat seat offering in Club World. I was on the inaugural outbound flight on October 25.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Terminal 5 at 1200, nice and early for my 1535 flight BA275. Club World passengers would normally head to Zone H to check in if they hadn’t done so online, but this being the inaugural service I was invited to check in at the first class desks at Zone J, at the far right-hand end of the terminal. I then proceeded through the fast-track lane for security. There were about ten people ahead of me and it took five to ten minutes to get through (laptops out, shoes off). I then went straight to the Concorde room, reserved for first class passengers and “specially invited guests”, located immediately to the right on the other side of security in the mammoth southern Galleries complex – when you go in, the Concorde room is to your left.
THE LOUNGE On arriving at the lounge I had a 15-minute treatment at the Elemis spa (free to first class, Club World or Gold Executive Club members travelling long-haul). The “shoulder to scalp” massage, performed on a massage chair that adjusts to fit the contours of your body and works on your muscles from top to toe, was very relaxing and a welcome treat before the long flight ahead. I then took a seat on one of the comfy sofas in the lounge. The Concorde room is a luxurious, airy space with high ceilings, plush furnishings, and a large mezzanine terrace area at the end overlooking the departure lounge on the floor below and the runway outside via floor-to-ceiling windows. The atmosphere is serene and the service excellent, with cooked-to-order food, a fully serviced bar, a smart dining area with booth seating, a boardroom with real Concorde aircraft seats, and a concierge desk. Wifi is free.
BOARDING At 1500 I headed to the satellite B building to board – down an escalator to the departure lounge and down a further level via a lift to the transit, which whisked me to satellite B, then up an escalator to Gate 35, through a passport check and down another escalator to the airbridge. I was in my seat by 1515 and was swiftly offered a welcome drink and newspaper and had my jacket stored away.
THE SEAT The London-Las Vegas flight will be operated by B777 aircraft in a three-class configuration of Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and World Traveller (economy), with 36, 24 and 212 seats respectively - for a seat plan of this aicraft click here. But the inaugural flight used a four-class configuration, with 14 seats in first class, 48 seats in business (six rows configured 2-4-2 with BA’s combination of forward- and backward-facing seats, labelled AB-DEFG-JK – for a seat plan click here), 40 seats in premium economy and 124 in economy. I was in 12A, which like all window seats was rear-facing. Upholstered in navy fabric with leather armrests, it converted to a fully-flat bed and could be divided from the seat next to me by an adjustable privacy screen – otherwise being almost nose to nose with someone could be a bit disconcerting.
Built into the dividing wall by my left elbow was the control for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system and, above that, a reading light. A 10-inch TV screen folded out from the divider, along with a good-sized table that unfortunately bounced a lot when I was using my laptop – it could slide in and out though, which was a nice touch. Also nifty was the storage drawer at floor level, which could store my laptop and all the bits I needed for the flight. The seat adjusted four different ways via preset buttons in the left-hand wall, and there was a UK/US plug socket. Ahead was a fold-down footstool, attached to which was a magazine rack.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The advantage of the forward-backward seat configuration in Club World is that all seats have direct access to the aisle, although on a night flight, if you are in a window seat you will have to climb over the legs of the passenger in the facing row if they are in fully-flat position. Normally my preference would be for the aisle, but in this instance I was happier with the window – you feel more tucked away and one of the key disadvantages of being in an aisle seat is that cabin crew have to lean over you when serving your neighbour by the window. Still, facing the back means you have to crane your neck to see what’s happening at the galley, and don’t expect a clear view out of the window because it is obstructed by the winglet attached to the headrest. Service starts from the front of the cabin, but avoid the front row (ten) as it is next to the galley and toilets. Being four-across, the middle seats are particularly dense, although the centre seats E and F are good if you are travelling in a pair as they face the same way.
THE FLIGHT Having boarded on time, there was then a two-hour delay as a leak had been spotted so one of the wheels had to come off, checks performed and the wheel replaced before we could take off. Throughout the delay staff kept us informed of what was going on – the captain personally came round to speak to each of us – and we were offered drinks, nuts and an Elemis amenity kit. We eventually pushed back at 1720 and took off shortly afterwards.
About half an hour into the flight there was a drink service, and about another half-hour after that the much-needed meal service – having not eaten in the lounge, I was starving at this stage. On offer were prawn cocktail or mushroom and tarragon tart to start, followed by fillet of beef with sweet chipotle sauce and refried beans; roast chicken with roast vegetables and bread sauce; organic Irish salmon with Swiss chard and red wine jus; penne pasta with cep mushroom and truffle sauce; or roast beetroot and potato salad with poached salmon. The meal came with a mixed leaf salad and an individual bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a selection of warm rolls (offered twice), and chilled cutlery. There was then a choice of pecan nut pie or a selection of cheeses for afters. I had the prawn cocktail, the chicken and the pie, and all were tasty. There was a good selection of wines on offer – my first choice of red was not on board but my second choice, J Lohr Los Osos Merlot 2006, Paso Robles, was very enjoyable.
Service was faultless, with cabin crew calling me by my name and always attentive (though given that BA chief executive Willie Walsh was on board, you wouldn’t expect anything less). After the meal service I was given a bottle of mineral water to keep hydrated during the flight, and settled down to do some work, before reclining to bed position and having a snooze for a couple of hours. I then browsed the audio-video on-demand IFE system – there was a wide variety of films, TV programmes and music, and the sound through the noise-cancelling headphones was good.
An hour and a half before landing afternoon tea was served (which felt a bit odd considering it was pitch black outside). You could have a round of sandwiches or a roast vegetable salad, and this was served with a cream slice. Scones were then offered – I was tucking into one of these when I was offered a brie and broccoli savoury slice, which I thought was a bit of a strange order to serve them in. Also available throughout the flight were snacks and drinks in the Club Kitchen.
ARRIVAL We clawed back some time on the journey and landed at 2040, an hour and a quarter behind schedule. We were off the aircraft ten minutes later and I then joined the queue for immigration, which wasn’t too long. Unfortunately however there appeared to be a problem with my fingerprint scans and I was whisked off to an office so they could be checked out – it turned out I had been mismatched with another person of the same surname travelling on the flight, and the misunderstanding was sorted out in ten minutes (someone from the same party as me also got hauled in because his fingerprints couldn’t be read, so there is certainly room for improvement with the screening system). My bag was waiting on the carousel when I came out.
VERDICT An excellent service that will offer very strong competition to Virgin’s rival offering, particularly as BA’s operates out of Heathrow.
PRICE A business class return from London Heathrow to Las Vegas in November started from £3,251 online.