British Airways B777-200 Club World22/11/2012
CHECK-IN I met my fellow travelling companions at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 0715, and headed for the staffed group check-in desks in Zone F at 0735 (there are also plenty of self-service check-in kiosks). There was no queue and it was a nice surprise to find we were upgraded from World Traveller Plus to Club World. I was promptly issued my boarding pass and my suitcase checked.
By 0745, I was joining the queue at fast-track security a short distance away. There were about ten people ahead of me and it took about nine minutes to get through, with jackets off, laptops and liquids out as usual. Once airside, at 0800, I stopped at a couple of shops to get some last-minute essentials. My flight to Chennai was scheduled for 0935.
THE LOUNGE I was advised to use the smaller Galleries Club lounge near my gate (B39), which meant taking the transfer shuttle to satellite terminal B. Once I had arrived at 0840, I took a couple of sets of escalators up to the main concourse and a further set up to where the lounge was located, and relaxed with a coffee and some breakfast. There was free wifi throughout the spacious open-plan facility, and despite being smaller than the other T5 lounges was still very luxurious, with plenty of comfortable seating in various areas.
To one side was a work zone with a dozen PC terminals, while the other had a selection of hot bacon rolls, toast and croissants laid out. There was a good selection of newspapers and magazines (including Business Traveller, The Economist and New Statesman), as well as showers, a bar with self-service spirits (too early for them) and mixers, a coffee, cereal and fruit station, and lots of natural light. There weren't any announcements so I kept an eye on the screens for the status of my flight.
BOARDING Boarding had actually started at about the same time as I arrived in the lounge so I only had about half an hour before it was time for me to go to the gate (the receptionist told me to get there by 0915 at the latest). Gate B39 was a minute's walk away from the lounge and when I got there the flight was on its final call. I boarded via an airbridge and was directed to my seat, 10K, by a window. I was promptly asked if I'd like my jacket to be hung and then offered a choice of water, orange juice or champagne.
There weren't many people in business. Noise-cancelling headphones, a pillow and a cotton-back coverlet were left on each seat, while menus and amenity kits (containing socks, an eyemask, Elemis lavender facial wipe, pro-collagen eye renewal, marine cream, hand and body lotion, lip balm, and toothbrush and paste) were handed out a little later. The flight was estimated to be just over nine hours.
THE SEAT The Club World cabin on this aircraft is divided in two sections, with four rows in the front of the plane (rows two to five) and two rows (ten and 11) behind. (Click here to see the seat plan) I was in backward-facing window seat 10K. Club World’s yin yang business class configuration means those in window seats face backwards, which not everyone will like, but I found it perfectly fine and actually unnoticeable.
The great thing about this layout is that everyone has direct access to the aisle (unless the person in the aisle seat has reclined their seat fully flat, when you will have to step over them) and when the divider is up, plenty of privacy – in the window seat, you feel you are almost in you own little suite as no one else can see you.
The table folded out of the side panelling and slid towards me, and proved stable enough to type on. The seat was comfy and supportive and upholstered in navy blue fabric. The audio-video on-demand system had an excellent choice of movies and TV shows shown on a 10.5-inch touchscreen. (There was also a remote control.) However, the image quality was not very sharp so despite having very good vision I could not make out the definition in anyone's face – they all looked a little blurry and hazy until the lights had been turned out in the cabin and it was completely dark.
The seat can be transformed into a fully flat bed by folding down to an ottoman at the end and pressing one of the control buttons at the side so that the seat slides down and the legrest up to meet it. Although I didn’t need to sleep, I did try it out and found it to be very comfortable. A storage drawer by my feet had space for shoes and a laptop, but I thought it would have been good to have a slot for magazines and a place to put a bottle of water. The armrests were very rickety, which made me wonder if it was broken, but I asked the person sitting next to me if this was the case for her seat too, and she said it was.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Some people will prefer facing forwards so should avoid all window seats (A and K) in Club. Aisle seats in row two (there is no row one) and ten may suffer some disturbance and light from the galley and washroom, and even in the window seats like mine in the same rows, when you are not wearing headphones you can hear the toilet flush.
Sitting in row 11 may also mean you experience some noise from World Traveller Plus. However, many travellers who like a window seat will opt for to sit here as there is no Club row behind, which means they always have direct access to the aisle. (The same applies to row five.) Note that solo travellers might want to avoid sitting in middle seat pairs E and F as they are not so private – however, if travelling as a couple, they would be preferable. All aisle seats (B, D, G, J) are forward facing, while middle pairs face backwards.
THE FLIGHT Take-off was 40 minutes late due to delays loading baggage on to the plane, but we finally took to the air at 1015. Drinks orders were taken beforehand so that once airborne, the crew were able to promptly deliver the requested beverages. Arrival cards handed out. I had a glass of chilled Taittinger champagne and some water, which was served with a bag of mixed salted nuts.
Meal orders were taken shortly after, and I went for the vegetarian aloo chat (potato seasoned with masala). It came with a green salad with dried cranberries and, despite not being beautifully presented, was served on a white china plate with metal cutlery and tasted spicy and delicious.
My main was of bendakkai pulusu (okra simmered in a tamarind and tomato stew), dhania pulao (coriander basmati rice) and aloo ka korma (bay potatoes in a roasted coconut and cashew nut sauce), which was again very flavourful and packed full of heat, with several bay leaves (annoying when you get a mouthful, though, as you have to spit them out) and crunchy spice seeds. A choice of chapati, garlic and other breads were offered, along with wine and more champagne.
Crew were generous and attentive and classy. Other options were prawn Malabar with steamed rice, seabass with lemon butter sauce, and a salad of roasted corn-fed Cajun chicken with beetroot, char-grilled mango, sesame seeds and lemon vinaigrette. There was also a second starter of crayfish, fennel and lime tian.
Dessert was of fruit, pear tart with Mascarpone cream or cheese (Shropshire Blue and Normandy Camembert) with fig compote and biscuits. I went for the cheese, which was excellent, but could have done with a couple more crackers and a bit more compote to go with it. The “Height Cuisine” menu was conceptualised under the guidance of celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, with food designed to be packed with “umami” – the fifth “savoury” taste after sweet, bitter, salt and sour. I was impressed with the result – Indian cooking lending itself so well to flying as it is packed with flavour and can be easily reheated in the air.
There was a good choice of free alcohol on board, with spirits such as Johnnie Walker Black, Otard VSOP cognac and Tanqueray gin, alongside champagne cocktails (kir royale and Buck’s fizz), and two red (Château Sigognac, 2009, Médoc, Bordeaux, France and Radford Dale Black Rock, 2009, Swartland, South Africa) and two white (Chablis, 2010, Domaine Louis Moreau, Burgundy, France and Tokara Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, Western Cape, South Africa) wines.
I watched films and worked throughout the duration of the journey. The lights went off at about 1230, coming back on at 1800, when a two-course breakfast was served. To start there was the option of chilled juice, strawberry and banana smoothie, fruit and bircher muesli, with a main course of either traditional English, scrambled eggs with cheese, or Indian (vegetable flatbread, paneer cheese with chickpeas and pan-fried potato patty). As it was more like dinnertime for me than breakfast, I chose the last, which was again very enjoyable.
ARRIVAL The plane landed 15 minutes late at 1945 (0115 local time) and the taxied for another 15 minutes to the stand. Disembarkation was quick via an airbridge, and immigration, a five-minute walk away didn't take more than ten minutes to get through. However, once downstairs in baggage reclaim, we had to wait 40 minutes for the cases to come through. It was a 15-minute drive to the ITC Grand Chola hotel where we were staying.
VERDICT I enjoyed the privacy of the Club World window seat, and even though I was facing backwards I didn’t find this to be a problem. The Indian food was delicious, the champagne excellent and the service attentive and friendly. The flight was delayed on departure but made up some of the time en route.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Chennai in December ranged between £2,209 and £5,538 depending on flexibility.
SEAT 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