British Airways A321 (ex-Bmi) Club World29/07/2013
CHECK-IN Baku Heydar Aliyev International airport is 30 minutes' drive from downtown. I arrived at 1835 with just under two hours before my flight to London (BA144) at 2030. I turned left to the South Terminal, where there was immediately a security check whereby cases and bags had to go through an X-ray machine. I had already checked in online within 24 hours of departure meaning it was free of charge to select a pre-assigned seat (I went for 8F).
The check-in area was just beyond, and there were two desks open for Club World passengers (21 and 22), one for World Traveller (20) and two for passport and visa check (23 and 24). There was no one else there so I was processed straight away and issued with a voucher for the lounge and a paper boarding pass. There was then another security check, which was very quiet and no attention paid to liquids, shoes or belts. A few metres after was immigration, where again there were no queues so I was straight through.
THE LOUNGE The business class lounge was just beyond passport control, to the left. I handed over my voucher and found a seat. It was a modest-sized facility with some natural daylight coming through slatted window blinds. There were sofas and armchairs as well as dining tables and chairs. Wifi was free and there was a small work area with a couple of PCs. There was also a smoking room, but the whole lounge smelt of cigarettes, which wasn't very nice.
A self-service bar area had a few ham sandwiches, fresh tomatoes and mini cucumbers (Azerbaijan's national favourite), sliced peppers, aubergine dip, beetroot salad, wraps, cold cuts, bowls of almonds, pistachios, peanuts, dried apricots and dates, plus a few pastries. There was a decent selection of spirits, wine, beer and soft drinks.
BOARDING The gate was set to close at 2010 so I exited the lounge at 2000 to join the short queue for boarding at Gate 1, a very short distance away. After my documents were checked, I went down a flight of stairs to a compact waiting room by the runway, where there was a ten-minute delay until passengers were allowed to board a transfer bus. It departed at 2013, and only drove 30 seconds before stopping in front of BA’s A321 plane. Boarding was via steps to the front.
Once in my business class seat in row eight, I was offered a choice of Taittinger champagne or orange juice. All bags in the Club World cabin have to be placed in the overhead lockers for take-off and landing. The IFE system was turned on straight away for people to be able to watch films (CAA regulation was relaxed on this at the end of 2012) but only with the BA-provided noise-cancelling headphones (as opposed to your own) during take-off and landing. A pillow and blanket were also provided.
This time a washbag was also provided (on the outbound flight there wasn't – click here to read a review). The navy blue pouch contained socks, an eyemask, ear plugs, tiny tubes of Elemis hand and body lotion, Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, Lip Revive, toothbrush and paste, a Balancing Lavender facial wipe and a sachet of Pro-Collagen Eye Renewal. A menu and winelist were also handed out (again, on the outbound flight I wasn’t given one).
THE SEAT The seven additional A321s that BA now has used to be part of Bmi’s fleet, but when British Airways incorporated them last year, it retrofitted them with 23 new Thompson Aero fully flat beds in business (different to what you would normally expect to find in BA Club World). On this aircraft, Club World comprised eight rows, arranged in an alternating 1-2, then 2-1 (A, D-F/A-C, F) pattern. As opposed to BA’s normal Club World offering, which is in a yin-yang configuration of forward- and backward-facing seats, all seats face forwards on this A321.
The product is spacious, especially the solo seats, which have a huge amount of room either side in the form of table tops. The seat reclines 180 degrees into coffin-like opening in between or either side of the fixed shell seats in front. The 15.4-inch Thales 15000 IFE screens are built into the back of the seat shell in front and are touchscreen (there is also a remote in one of the side panels). Either side of the screen are fabric bottle holders and magazine slots (though on the pairs of seats there's only one bottle holder each and one shared magazine rack).
The fixed shell and upholstery of the seat is chocolate brown with polished wood and silver detailing. A control panel was on my right to adjust the legrest, lumbar support and angle of the seat. There were also buttons to make the massage function firmer or softer but this did not seem to do anything much except vibrate a bit. On the other side was a universal plug socket, USB port, headphone port and round charging port, easily accessible in the panel above the table. A sliding tray table came out too so you can eat or work on a laptop comfortably. No amenity kit was provided on this daytime sector.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Unless you are travelling with a companion, always go for one of the solo seats (1A, 2F, 3A, 4F, 5A, 6F, 7A, 7F, 8F) as they are the most private, spacious and have direct aisle access and views out of the window. Twin aisle seats just have an armrest separating you from the gangway, whereas single pairs have two counter tops built-in either side (with the exception of 7F, which has a fold-down crew seat to the left). If you sit near the front you get served quicker.
Row seven is the exit row, while row eight is the back row, though note that sitting in 8F means you are behind a fold-down crew seat in place of 7D, which obstructs your view a bit. It’s probably best to avoid row eight if you are concerned about disturbance from babies in economy, and row one as there can be some noise from the galley. The washroom is at the front of the plane.
THE FLIGHT Take-off was delayed by almost an hour (until 2125) because of a problem with the tug moving the aircraft to the runway. Engineers were consequently called and the pilot then had to fill in some time-consuming paperwork. He kept passengers updated with news and luckily the wait wasn’t too painful as everyone was able to watch films on the IFE. Drinks orders were also taken before departure, and once the plane was cruising at 2200, crew also took food requests.
The menu listed two starters: smoked salmon gravlax with capers and lemon; and mozzarella with grilled vegetables and pesto. I went for the latter, which was ok. These also came with a “fresh seasonal salad”, though apparently lettuce was the only item in season.
The mains were: fillet of beef with rosemary sauce, rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes, glazed baby carrots and broccoli; chicken Madras curry with white rice; marinated prawn salad with tomatoes, cucumber and vinaigrette dressing; and spinach tortellini with cheese herb sauce. I sampled the pasta, which was quite tasty though there wasn’t much sauce.
To drink, there was champagne, a good selection of spirits and beer, and four wines: a Château Blaignan, 2010, Cru Bourgeois, Medoc, Bordeaux; a Hahn Winery Pinot Noir, 2010, Monterey, California; a Le G de Château Guiraud, 2011, Bordeaux Blanc Sec; and an Esser Chardonnay, 2011, Monterey, California. I had a couple of glasses of the pinot noir, which was very drinkable.
For dessert, there was honey medovik cake (a kind of Russian torte), fruit or cheese (Danish Blue and Kashkaval) and biscuits. There were also snacks in the galley for during the flight –chocolate, crisps, sweets and the like.
Annoyingly, as on the outbound flight some of the films were proving unavailable to watch. Again a member of crew tried to help, offering for me to move seats, resetting the system and making sure there were no parental locks but to no avail. It seemed some of the content had not been uploaded as other passengers were having the same problem. I was surprised that the issue hadn’t been fixed days before when I initially reported it, along with other passengers. After watching a couple of films, I settled down for 90 minutes of sleep on the fully flat bed before landing.
ARRIVAL The plane touched down at Heathrow Terminal 1 at 0305 (2305 local time). Passengers disembarked via an airbridge and then walked a good ten minutes through the building to passport control. There was no fast-track lane open for business passengers, and the biometric gates weren’t working either, but luckily there was only about a three-minute wait to get through. Once in baggage reclaim, my priority-tagged case appeared within five minutes, though it was soaking wet as there was torrential rain outside.
VERDICT The delay to departure was unfortunate, though it was a relief to be able to watch the IFE during this time. That said, having the same problem with some of the movies not being available was frustrating. Overall, I was very impressed with this new fully-flat business class product, especially with the amount of space you have in the solo seats and the large entertainment screens.
CONFIGURATION 1-2/2-1 (A, D-F/A-C, F)
SEAT LENGTH 78in/198cm
SEAT WIDTH 20.5in/52cm
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees