British Airways B747-400 Club World04/10/2012
Check-in British Airways’ daily service (BA246) from Sao Paulo to London departs at 1615, with a arrival in London scheduled at 0725 the next day. Note that the flight originates in Buenos Aires, so passengers travelling from Argentina will be able to check-in online and grab the best seats before those departing from Brazil.
The ageing departure terminal of Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International airport could not be more of a contrast to the modern facilities at London’s Heathrow T5 (click here to read the review of the outbound flight). When we checked in, there was just one Club World desk open (although those queuing were waved through to economy and first class desks when they became available). Admittedly, they probably weren’t expecting a large group of nearly 20 people to check in all at once, but the process was nonetheless slow, as was the security check, where there was no fast-track lane. It took over an hour to get airside, compared with five minutes on the outbound journey.
The lounge Directions to the lounges at the airport are very poorly signposted – the majority of our group missed the turn and walked towards the gates, instead of taking a sharp left immediately after security, before the small duty-free shop. BA has its own lounge on the second floor, as do TAM, Delta and Air France. Inside, facilities are adequate, and there is a pleasant terrace at the far end with wicker furniture, where you can watch aircraft land and taxi to their stands – we watched as the BA service touched down at 1445. There is no business centre, but wifi internet access is free. Other facilities include a bank of desks with telephones, several seating areas (one with a flatscreen TV that was turned off), a range of English-language newspapers including The Times, Daily Mail, Telegraph and FT, and a food and beverage area with cold meats, cheese, cakes, fruit, rolls, crackers, a Nescafé coffee machine, and soft and alcoholic drinks.
Boarding The flight was called at 1545, with boarding from Gate 10, around ten minutes’ walk from the lounge. Both the upper and lower cabins of Club World were almost full, and I was directed to seat 18D on the lower deck, where I was offered champagne and juice. Take-off was pretty much on time at 1630, and the captain said the flight was scheduled to take ten hours and 47 minutes, with turbulence expected at about four and a half and five and a half hours in.
The seat For my general comments on the BA Club World seating, see the outbound review here. The major difference between Club World on the upper and lower decks on the B747-400 is the number of seats configured across (2-4-2 on the lower deck compared with 2-2 on the upper deck). The result is that the middle two seats of the middle block (E and F) face the same way as each other, rather than opposite ways as the other seats do throughout the rest of the cabin. This is great if you are travelling with a friend or partner, but a little intimate if you are sitting next to a stranger, as the privacy divider between the two is far less effective than the electronic screen between the alternating seats. For a seatplan of this aircraft click here.
Which seat to choose? There are two Club World cabins on the lower deck of the High-J version of the B747-400 – two rows of seats to the left as you enter before first class, and four rows to the right before World Traveller Plus. My seat, 18D, was on the aisle in the second cabin, and having travelled in a window seat on the outbound journey I much preferred the enclosed feeling of the former, and also missed the side storage bins. My preference on the lower deck would be the window seats on either side, followed by the centre seats if travelling with a partner, and probably an aisle seat if not. I would also opt to sit upstairs if possible rather than on the lower deck, as there is a more private feel in “the bubble”.
The flight Soon after take-off a member of the crew announced that there was an issue with the in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems of some passengers, so everyone’s would be restarted to try and resolve the problem. This took around 30 minutes, but once completed the system worked fine for the rest of the flight. I settled down to watch a movie, by which time my order had been taken for the dinner service.
Food and drink
The starters were Brazilian-style shrimp, crab and coconut cocktail, and oven-roasted balsamic tomato and Mozzarella salad. The passenger next to me ordered the latter, as had I, but I had managed to get the last one, with the steward saying that only five portions of the salad had been put on board.
The main courses were: grilled fillet steak with peppercorn sauce, buttered carrots, asparagus and jacket potatoes with sour cream and chives; Makhanwala-style mild chicken curry with savoury rice; gratinated roast aubergine slices with Parmesan and tomato sauce; mushroom risotto with cherry tomato, blanched peas and buttered carrot; and a chilled salad of potato and fresh salmon with sour cream, chives and lemon.
Desserts were a choice of butterscotch cheesecake with crème anglaise; Gorgonzola and Emmental cheese; and a selection of fruit.
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 located on the lower deck between the two Club World cabins and offers sandwiches, wraps, cakes, chocolate, fruit and soft drinks.
After dinner, I played the highly addictive Who Wants to be a Millionaire? game on the IFE system, before settling down for what turned out to be a fairly restless sleep, although, to my knowledge, the predicted turbulence didn’t happen. I was woken by the lights being switched on and the captain cheerily announcing “Welcome to the Bay of Biscay!”, before breakfast was served, which included a choice of a fruit smoothie, fresh fruit, greek yoghurt, a cooked English, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, and American-style pancakes with caramelised bananas. As on the outbound journey, the basket of warm pastries was excellent.
Arrival We arrived on time but it took a little while to get to the stand at the satellite terminal T5B as there was a queue. There was no wait for IRIS at immigration and it worked first time.
As I was heading in to work after the flight, I decided to use the arrival facilities in the main terminal. These are extensive, particularly the shower block, which is configured in several figures of eight, with a high-tech computer system telling the receptionist which cubicles are free and which are being cleaned, etc. There is plenty of space inside to get changed, but the seal around the bottom of my shower was not completely watertight so by the time I got out half the bathroom was flooded. (Thankfully, I had put my suitcase by the door, and the water had not reached that far.) Other facilities include a good range of hot and cold breakfast options, plenty of newspapers, and an Elemis spa.
Verdict Ground services at Sao Paulo could do with an overhaul, but the service on board was excellent, as were the arrivals facilities at T5. The forward/backward configuration of the Club World seat may not be to everyone’s liking, but as a fully-flat bed it still gets my vote ahead of any airline offering an angled lie-flat product.