British Airways B777-300ER World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy)13/03/2013
Check-in I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 5 for my 2100 departure on BA27 at 1900 and dropped my bag off at the bag drop desk before going through fast track security, where there was a queue of only a few people.
From there I did the loop down one floor and then back up to the lounges. Note that World Traveller Plus (WTP, henceforth) passengers don’t get access to the lounge, but if you have status in the BA Executive Club of silver or gold, you do.
The lounge I went into the gold lounge, and had a bowl of fruit and some salad. It was a Sunday evening, and there were very few magazines or newspapers left, and all the bags of crisps had gone from the bar area, replaced by small bags of pretzels.
Boarding I kept an eye on the screens and sure enough, BA27 was then shown as departing from satellite C, which can take some time on the shuttle to reach, so I waited for five minutes, reasoning that since there is no lounge in C, I could take advantage of these extra minutes to eat several more bags of pretzels, then took the shuttle over.
Once there it was a further 20 minute wait, and I passed the time watching panicked passengers run around Satellite C trying to find their flight. I didn’t blame them for being confused, since only three flights were listed as departing from C, but at the same time flight announcements were made for several other flights. Whether this was to tell people who had gone to the wrong satellite that they should get back on the transit train, was a mistake, or the screens were faulty, I didn’t find out.
The flight was boarded first with those who required extra assistance, and then business, first, and status card holders in the Oneworld or BA loyalty programmes.
The seat I had pre-selected 22K, which is an emergency seat exit with lots of leg room, but a nice surprise as the presence of the new World Traveller Plus seat, the first time I have flown it on a long haul sector. I call it “new” to distinguish it from the “old” seat we all know, but of course the “new” seat was introduced back in 2010. To learn more about the launch in 2010, click here.
On the seat was a blanket and an amenity bag containing an eyemask, ear plugs, flight socks and a pen. The noise cancelling headphones were also in a plastic bag. I stowed my bag in the overhead locker, which was easy, since I was pretty much the first in the cabin, and folded up my jacket and put it on top of the bag, then sat in the seat and got used to the novelty.
The first thing to point out is that while this seat is being fitted to BA’s new aircraft, it is not being retrofitted to all of its existing aircraft, but only 18 of its B777-200 fleet, so while it is lovely to encounter it, there’s no guarantee you will get it.
This is a disappointment, because the seat is a clear improvement on the existing one and I have a feeling now I have flown it I will be less forgiving of the old seat when I inevitably encounter it, but those are the mental games we play with ourselves when flying airlines with inconsistent products.
This aircraft was in fact a B777-300ER. If you have the new IFE system, you can find out the aircraft type through that system by choosing the flight map option and then cycling through the different views of the route available under the Journey Planner - one of those views gives the aircraft’s registration, which in this case was G-STBD. You can type that into Google and find out all the details of the aircraft including every flight it has ever made. When I retire I will never get bored.
On this configuration, WTP is in a dedicated cabin of 44 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration in rows 21-26. The seatplan link is here.
What’s “dedicated” about it? Well, it has a curtain at the front of the cabin stopping you from using the Club World washrooms, though plenty of people tried and succeeded during the flight. There’s actually a rope that can be stretched across to further make clear that WTP passengers aren’t allowed through, but it consists of two pieces of rope joined in the middle by a mechanism that “breaks” if someone walks into it (for obvious safety reasons) and the flight attendants invariably did so as they walked back from Club World and couldn’t see it because of the curtain drawn across.
The washroom is in fact behind you, between the two cabins in World Traveller (economy), though as that was often busy s I walked right to the back of the aircraft, where they were quieter, mainly because there were many unoccupied seats at the back of the aircraft. I thought this was interesting, since First, Club World and WTP were all full, yet WT was, at my guess, only two thirds full.
Back in WTP, the new seats don’t increase your leg room, which is quoted by the airline as 38 inches, but the seat is certainly comparable for leg room with, for instance, the new JAL premium economy I flew recently (the review is here), or the new Cathay Pacific premium economy (review here).
All seats have two USB ports and a RCA port, as well as a power socket that is compatible with UK, US and European plugs. The headphone socket is in the seat arm and the IFE is really good – a generous choice of programming viewed on a clear 10.6-inch screen.
Which seat to choose? The ones with the best leg room are 22AB and 22JK. I couldn’t tell if the front row of four seats (21DEFG) had more leg room or not, though I suppose they have the advantage of a seat not reclining into their space during the flight.
All these front row seats have some important differences with the majority of seating in the cabin – the IFE screen came out of the arm, for instance, and the footrest came from under the seat instead of from below the seat in front, and you also get less storage space – in fact, the seat next to me at 22J didn’t have any storage space at all, even his BA High Life magazine was in a magazine pocket next to me on the wall.
Still, if you want leg room, you can’t get more than these four seats (22AB and 22JK) since the space in front is clear for the over-wing exit. One point – if you get cold feet, these seats aren’t for you – I noticed during the flight what I can only describe as a draft from the door! Impossible, I know, but I used the socks from the amenity bag and put them on over my own socks, and kept my shoes on, but for those who like to take off their shoes, I think you would get cold feet here.
Note also that 22A and 22K (where I was sitting) have no windows, and if you want to see outside you have to lean right forward to look out of the small window in the door, which is just about possible, but not worth the effort.
Generally, you would want to avoid the middle seats (so E and F), though I would also avoid all the aisle seats because if someone inside you wants to get up, you have to stand up or at least bring your seat back up to upright to let them go. That said, it’s personal preference.
If you don’t mind getting up and down for health reasons, or need to keep accessing things in the overhead bag (work, laptop etc…) or are yourself a fidget then it’s probably better choosing an aisle seat. Personally, on overnight flights like this one, I’d go for a window seat, stay rehydrated without needing the toilet every 90 minutes, and watch the IFE and sleep.
The flight We departed on time, and after the offer of hot towels, were served drinks and then a choice of food. The Dinner menu was
- Starter Pesto salad (cold)
- Main Hong Kong-style marinated chicken with steamed Asian rice and stir-fried bok choy or Seared British tenderloin of beer with dauphinoise potatoes, vegetable medley, peas and broad beans with fresh mint and chasseur sauce.
- Dessert Chocolate and caramel mousse. I had the chicken, which was delicious, and I was quite full after the meal. There was a choice of wines, spirits and soft drinks.
I then watched Skyfall, which I thought was too long, and had a plot which, even among James Bond films was ridiculous, though the fashion I loved. I’ve since learned that for the opening sequence alone, when Bond is wearing a light grey Tom Ford suit to chase the baddie through Istanbul, that 60 – six-zero – of them were used for the filming, which shows how difficult it is to stay smart when involved in active travel. There are some details in a blog here.
After that I put on the eye mask, inserted ear plugs, wrapped myself in the blanket with the seat belt on top and reclined the seat, sleeping for seven hours until I heard the breakfast service begin (about an hour before landing).
I find it pretty easy to sleep in premium economy seats, and this one was very comfortable, giving me the option of stretching out my legs and so avoiding the leg rest / foot rest, or turning slightly on my side and supporting them on it. It was a front row seat, however.
Breakfast was a choice of an omelette or full English. The omelette was OK - I wasn’t properly awake but I ate the yoghurt and a kind of bun, as well as the bread – so much for that diet. By then we were only 40 minutes from landing, so I caught the last 20 minutes of Argo which I had rushed through on a previous flight – again, so-so movie, great fashion - and we landed on time at 1640 Hong Kong time. There were no delays in disembarking and the bags arrived on the carousel about 20 minutes after landing.
Verdict Very good – up there with the other premium economy products that are being brought out by airlines such as Cathay Pacific and JAL. Just a shame it isn’t on all the aircraft, though it will be on the A380s and B787s, when they come.