Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways B747-400 Club World

23/01/2013

CHECK-IN I’m not a nervous flyer, but with reports that one runway at Heathrow was closed and snow was getting heavier, it was with some trepidation that I arrived at Terminal 1 of Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport at 2130 for my BA26 flight home to London. I had checked in at the City Check-in desks at IFC in Central, done some shopping, and then took the Airport Express train out to the airport. I walked straight through departures, passport check, security and then immigration.

THE LOUNGE: BA’s First Class Lounge, shared with Qantas, is to the right on the same level as immigration, with the business class lounge being down one level. I have a gold card with British Airways as a result of a status match with Bmi when that loyalty programme closed, and so had access to the First Class Lounge.

The lounge has free wifi (though this is very slow), hot and cold food and a wide range of drinks, and even a fridge with small tubs of ice cream for those who could not wait for the food on board or who wanted to try and sleep the whole 12 and half hours home.

I sat in an area with a large TV which was showing continued coverage of the Lance Armstrong revelations and did some work and made some calls. The lounge gradually filled up, not least from the slightly later BA flight departing some 30 minutes after BA26, so wanting to stretch my legs I walked down to Gate 17 before the flight was showing as boarding.

BOARDING: By the time I got there it had started to board, in two different queues with gold and silver cards, business and first having priority. I was quickly on board and had my jacket taken.

I looked through the selection of magazines in the rack at the front of the cabin, but it was fairly limited, with the BA magazines which I had already read for that month, Business Traveller (I was pleased to see) and a battered Spectator. One of the flight attendants saw me walk away empty-handed, asked what I would like to read (I was at a loss there, and so said “GQ”) and she came back with it ten minutes later. I was impressed by the initiative of this, and the execution.

I was given the Elemis amenity bag with flight socks, eye mask, ear plugs, lip save, a moisturiser and a toothpaste and toothbrush – all the essentials, and offered water, champagne or orange juice.

Despite the possibility of snow at the London end of the trip we pushed away from the stand on time at 2325 and were quickly on our way. Shortly after take-off the cabin services director came round with the iPad, introduced herself, congratulated me on making it to gold card courtesy of my Bmi gold tier card being transferred and asked if there was anything she could help me with. The iPad with passenger details is a handy addition, but it is tempting to ask what else they have down against my name. Towards the end of the flight she chatted with a passenger across the aisle whose onward Aberdeen flight had been cancelled to tell him he was booked on the next flight up north. Presumably this information had been forwarded from the flight deck onto the iPad.

The seat: I was in 18K in the middle of the second, larger cabin on board. For a seatplan click here.

I’m not sure there’s much to add about the design of this seat – there are lots of reviews on our various ebsites of the controls, IFE system and quirks of the Club World forward and backward ying yang design. There are those reading this who think the seat was always misconceived, and besides, is now out of date, and many others who are so used to it that they are fond of many of its features. Some maintain that they feel cramped in the seat and with the configuration compared to some of the newer business class seats that have been introduced by competitors and there’s no doubt that from the airline’s point of view it’s an impressive use of the “real estate” of the aircraft.

Personally, I like the seat, though there were the familiar annoyances like the table bouncing when I typed on my laptop. But then, you just jam a blanket between the arm of the seat and the underside of the table, and that’s the end of that problem. It would be nice if there was somewhere to balance a drink while you worked (the table isn’t very big),but if you leave your laptop screen at 90 degrees there is room to put it there, and then you reach round whenever you want a drink.

I like a little more light while I’m working than was available in the cabin where the lights were kept lightly dimmed because of the late hour of our flight, but there is an adjustable side light in the body of the seat – to my left in this particular seat, though this varies depending on the seat (in 18H, for instance, it is on the right), so I had this on half beam and angled it onto the keyboard so I could see the keys as I typed.

Incidentally, if you are tempted to fly with your phone (or anything valuable) in your pocket, don’t. On the last flight I was on a fellow journalist realised his mobile phone had slipped out of his pocket and into the workings of this seat. You might think it’s a simple thing to lift off the cushion to get the phone out from wherever it has disappeared. It isn’t. In fact, it is pretty nigh impossible, not least since the seat has an electric motor deep in its workings and it’s apparently possible to trap your fingers or get a shock if you start disassembling it.

On that flight we had Martin Darbyshire of the design agency behind the Club World seat on board, and it took him and two flight crew ten minutes to get the phone out and put the seat back together again. On a normal flight, I just don’t see it happening. I put my phone in one of my shoes after take-off. It’s quite difficult to forget it when you do that, but if you see someone limping as they are walking up the air bridge into the terminal, they will probably remember before immigration.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Aisle seats are forward facing, inside pairs of seats and window seats are backward facing. Best seat are probably 20A and 20K which are window seats with uninterrupted access to the aisle - other window seats you have to step over the feet of the person on the aisle when they are fully-relined. Seats I would avoid are those in the front row since they are close to the washrooms and the galley, and in fact the passenger in the row in front of me (17G) moved before take-off to take a seat further back in the cabin.

The cabin was perhaps two thirds full, and the seat just inside of me was empty, which meant after take-off I could press the button to lift the screen separating seat 18G from 18F and so enjoy some privacy (there was someone in 18E) and more importantly not have food and drinks served over me.

Food and drink: Salmon gravlax with mixed mesclun, aubergine wonton with mascarpone and fines herbes. I was fascinated by the description but it was a couple of almost empty hard and cold pastry scallops with some aubergine paste in them. If it had been described that way, I wouldn’t have chosen it.

The seasonal salad with vinaigrette, was fine, and from the main courses I chose Nyona-style breast of chicken with Thai steamed rice. It came with a bit of broccoli, but otherwise was grey and yellow, never the most inspiring colours, with some mini sweetcorns. I had trouble finishing it because it was bland.

Perhaps I chose badly, the other options were beef and stout stew with horseradish mash, farfalle pasta with tomato sauce, mushroom and grilled vegetables or a chilled main course salad of soba mushroom with baked sole. That was enough for me and I wanted to sleep, but for the record, desserts were Yorkshire cheese cake with butterscotch sauce; cheddar and blue stilton cheese served with grapes, apricot and crackers, and a selection of fruit, chocolates.

Drinks: champagne cocktail: Kir Royale or Bucks Fizz, or Taittinger Brut Reserve NV Champagne. The wines on board were:

  • White: Chablis 1er Cru Cote de Lechet 2010, Domaince Jean-Marc Brocard, Burgundy, France and Pemberley Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Pemberton, Western Australia. 
  • Red: Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2011, “Alchimie”, Domaine des 3 Cellier, Rhone, France and Logan Shiraz, NSW, Australia.

I don’t normally note all of this down, but on this flight, also available, were Campari, Martini Dry, Cointreau, Southern Comfort, Smirnoff Blue, Massenez Crème de Cssis, Bacardi, Tanqueray, Gordons Gin, Tia Maria, Baileys, Tio Pepe, Bacardi,

  • Whiskies: Glenlivet 15-year-old Malt, Jack Daniel’s, Johnnie Walker Black, Drambuie 15-year-old Speyside Malt Liquer. Cognac VSOP Cognac.
  • Beer: Grolsch Premium, Fuller’s London Pride, Heineken. 
  • Soft drinks: Coca-Cola, Diet Coca-Cola, Sprite, Sparkling mineral water, still mineral water, Tonic Water, Diet Tonic, Fanta Orange, Canada Dry, Soda Water. Apple, tomato, orange and cranberry juices
  • Twinings tea: English breakfast, Earl Grey, Pure Green Tea, Peppermint, Camomile or Cranberry, Raspberry and Elderflower.
  • Ground Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee.

My plate was cleared, I reclined the seat and slept without problem for six hours. When I woke I went into the Club Kitchen where there was a selection of things, the list being: Teoni’s handmade shortbread; Cadbury’s chocolate selection, Beckleberry’s fine artisan pastries, Duchy Originals, yoghurts from Waitrose Foundation in Africa and a variety of sandwiches. In honesty, the selection was a little threadbare, though there were plenty of crisps, but I found a packet of liquorice allsorts, so everything was OK by me and I went back to my seat and watched the time travel film Looper, which was instantly forgettable, but then perhaps that’s the point.

About two hours before landing breakfast began to be served. I had already had a chilled fruit juice so I went for the fruit smoothie of banana, mango and pineapple and some fresh fruit (muesli was also on offer with citrus fruits). It was too early for me to eat the main courses, but they were English breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, pork sausage, mushrooms and grilled tomato, omelette with tomato pesto and bubble and squeak cake, stir-friend noodles with chicken, vegetables and dim sum.

ARRIVAL: This is one of the first flights to land at Heathrow in the morning which is one of its attractions – no flight congestion (unless we’ve got in so early the flights are not allowed to land because of noise abatement around the airport, in which case we circle around London until it is time to land).

The landing, arrival and immigration were all without incident, though the escalators up from the transit train (we had landed at Satellite B) were not working, so we all had to wait for the lifts.  Baggage was on time and then I left the airport. On the way home I heard about the disruption of the day before and continuing cancellations. I was lucky.

VERDICT: Very good. I was disappointed by the main meal, but the service was excellent, and I arrived refreshed ready for the next day.

FACT FILE:

  • CONFIGURATION 2-4-2 (A-B, D-E-F-G, J-K)
  • SEAT WIDTH 25in/63.5cm
  • SEAT LENGTH 72in/182.9cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees 
  • CONTACT ba.com
Tom Otley