Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways B747-400 Club World

04/10/2012

Check-in British Airways’ daily service BA247 to Sao Paulo departs at 2145, with a scheduled arrival of 0515 the next day, before continuing as the same flight number to Buenos Aires, landing at 0950. I was travelling with a large group under one ticket, and so was unable to check in online, or indeed change my pre-assigned seat when checking in.

Heathrow T5 was quiet when I arrived on a Wednesday evening, with no queues at any of the Club World check-in desks, located to the south end of the terminal. A helpful member of staff informed me that the flight would probably be leaving from the satellite building, but as I was early she suggested I make use of the main South Galleries lounges. There was only one person ahead of me in the fast-track security queue, and I was airside no more than five minutes after arriving at the airport, which I thought was very impressive.

The lounge Regular T5 business travellers will be familiar with “millionaires’ door” located just after security, which whisks first class passengers and other VIPs straight into the Concorde Room. The other lounges are also situated in this area, but  passengers are forced to turn left after security, past Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food, down the escalators, past several duty-free shops, back up an escalator, past the shimmering wave art installation, reception for the first class lounge and Elemis spa, then up another escalator, and past the horse/lampshade installation, before finally arriving at the business class lounge, which is not far from where they started by security. It’s a bizarre route that can only have been created to make passengers visit other parts of the terminal in the hope of persuading them to part with cash to help pay for the £4.3 billion building.

Having said all that, the lounge is a very impressive space, with a huge choice of seating areas and plush dècor designed by Osborne and Little. It was my first visit, barring a pre-opening tour nearly 18 months ago, and at first I was somewhat overwhelmed as to where to sit to make the most of the facilities without having to walk too far for everything. I opted for a seating area to the right of the entrance, by the larger of two business centres, just past the hot and cold self-service buffet, which was offering dishes including chilli con carne, mushroom stroganoff, soup, warm rolls, sandwiches and salads. There are also a couple of self-service bars, as well as a small cinema showing US Open tennis. There is free wifi throughout. Club World passengers are entitled to a free treatment and use of the showers at the Elemis spa, although both have to be booked.

Boarding As predicted by the check-in staff, the flight was departing from Gate 48 in the satellite building T5B, so at about 2100 I made my way downstairs to the transit shuttle, and was able to board the B747-400 when I got to the gate.

BA uses the High-J version of its B747-400 aircraft on this route (click here for the seatplan), meaning that there are 50 business class seats on the lower deck across two cabins, plus a further 20 on the upper deck, where I was sitting in seat 63A. Both the upper and lower decks were pretty full, although I was travelling in a group of nearly 20 passengers that pretty took up most of the upper deck, which will have skewed the normal load factor somewhat.

As we were taxiing to the runway there was a loud bang from somewhere near the back of the plane, and the captain announced that as they hadn’t been able to ascertain the cause of the noise, we would have to return to the stand so as it could be checked, which he estimated would put us around two hours behind schedule. During the wait, the in-flight entertainment (IFE) was turned on, and passengers were permitted to use their mobile phones.

Thankfully, the delay was shorter than expected – it turns out there was an unsecured gas canister in the hold – and the captain was at pains to point out that its contents was not hazardous. We eventually took off about 75 minutes late, at 2300.

The seat Despite having worked for Business Traveller for almost four years, this was my first flight in Club World (in either the old or new incarnations), so I have no first-hand experience on which to base a judgement as to whether the new version is better than the old, but my initial thoughts were of a functional, rather than flashy, design.

Much has been said about the alternating forward- and backward-facing seats (2-2 on the upper deck). Personally, I didn’t have an issue with this, although I  was travelling with the passenger sat opposite me so we were happy to leave the divider down and chat during the flight. Had I been opposite a stranger, I might have felt more inclined to put the divider up after take-off, particularly as every now and then you can’t help but catch a smile or a grimace from the passenger while they are watching a film. It’s also worth pointing out that even if you do put the divider up, crew will often lower it when taking food and drink orders. One other point to note is that the divider is operated by a button on the top, not by manually pulling it up, as I and several other passengers discovered.

A handy feature of the seat is the laptop drawer, which I used to store all of  my bits and pieces such as mobile phone, wallet, passport, and amenity kit (Elemis-branded, with the usual contents such as toothbrush, ear plugs, socks, eye mask and moisturisers). My window seat had the added bonus of the side storage bins, which easily fitted my laptop bag, plus the pillow and blanket that I didn’t immediately need. The seat itself was perfectly comfortable, both in the sitting position, the Z-shaped position, and when reclined to fully-flat. In terms of width, I didn’t feel cramped, although at six-foot tall I could have done with another couple of inches of length. Downsides for me were the flimsy table – almost impossible to work at unless you jam something between it and the armrest – and the lack of a bottle holder or separate drinks tray.

Which seat to choose? Again, I do not have enough experience of Club World cabins to make a fully informed decision. I understand that certain individual seats have up to three or four inches of extra legroom due to layout anomalies, but this is difficult to establish simply by having a wander around the dimly lit cabin. What I would say is that I was happy to be by the window, for the extra storage, the more enclosed feeling, and for less noise from passing crew and passengers. It was also good to have a row between me and the staff galley at the back of the upper deck, although seat 64A behind me did benefit from not having the shell of another seat after its footrest, so a tall person would be able to hang his/her feet over the edge of the bed.

The flight My headset had no padding on one side, and this was also the case for the passenger next to me, but both were quickly replaced by a member of the crew when requested. The IFE worked faultlessly – something I have heard is not always the case, and indeed was not the case on my return flight. There was a good selection of TV programmes and movies including Star Trek, Che Part One and Two, and Angels and Demons. As this was a night flight, I had decided not to do any work, but there is in-seat power for those needing it.

Food and drink

The evening meal consisted of prawn cocktail or Parmesan panna cotta with chargrilled courgette to start, although the latter had run out by the time it got to me.

The mains were: fillet of beef with truffle mash and mushroom fricassee; roast chicken with bread sauce and roasted vegetables; Staffordshire oatcake crêpe with sun-dried tomatoes and cream cheese with pesto couscous; and a cold salad of thyme-marinated breast of chicken, sautéed apple and sage vinaigrette. I opted for Welsh line-caught sea bass with lemon butter sauce, minted peas and roast new potatoes, which to be honest, was fairly bland.

Desserts were a choice of apple and cinnamon pie with custard; Barber’s 1833 and Blacksticks White cheese with savoury biscuits; fruit and chocolates.

The champagnes were Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut and Ayala brut Majeur NV. The white wines were: A to Z Oregon pinot gris, 2007; Cono Sur Vision sauvignon blanc, 2008; Terra do Gargalo, 2007; and Château de Rully, 2007. The red wines were: Montes Alpha syrah, 2006; Château Bournac, 2005; La Haute Marone, 2007; and J Lohr, Los Osos merlot, 2006.

The Club Kitchen is on the lower deck and offers sandwiches, wraps, cakes, chocolate, fruit and soft drinks. On the upper deck, there was a small tray by the top of the stairs with fruit and a smaller selection of snacks.

Having transformed the seat into the bed (it slides down electronically to meet a fold-down ottoman footrest) I was able to get a fairly good night’s sleep before being woken for breakfast about one hour before landing. Among the choices were a fruit smoothie, fresh fruit, greek yoghurt, a cooked English breakfast, Spanish-style potato omelette and a cream cheese blini. I thought the best part of the breakfast was the basket of hot pastries, croissants and muffins, which I returned to several times.

Arrival We touched down at 0645, around one and a half hours late, and were quickly disembarked. The queue for immigration was swift, although when it came to me, the officer had to query my passport with her supervisor, although I never found out why. By the time I was through, the bags belonging to the people I was travelling with were on the carousel.

Verdict Superb check-in facilities and lounges at T5, and a good fully-flat business class product. Service in-flight was excellent and the food was satisfactory.

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Mark Caswell