British Airways B777 Club World04/10/2012
CHECK-IN I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 0840 in good time for my 1100 flight BA139 to Mumbai (a nine-hour five-minute flight). I headed for the Club World check-in zone (H) to drop my bag, having checked in online. There were half a dozen desks open, all of which had customers at them, and I was seen to after a five-minute wait. I proceeded through the fast-track lane for security – there was a short queue and I was airside quickly. I then went to BA’s South Galleries lounges.
THE LOUNGE The Club World lounge was busy on this Wednesday morning but there was plenty of space to sit. I took a window seat, had some breakfast – there was a big spread including cereals, fresh fruit, hot items and pastries – and did some work. Wifi was free and fast.
BOARDING The flight was departing from gate C61 and the lounge receptionist advised me to set out from the lounge at 1020. I went at 1015 and it took 15 minutes to get there via the transit – the flight was already boarding and by 1035 was on final call, so I was glad I’d set out a few minutes earlier. I boarded via a very long airbridge and once in my seat was offered a newspaper and water, juice or champagne.
THE SEAT This was a four-class B777 with First, Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and World Traveller (economy). The business cabin comprised six rows (10-15) configured 2-4-2 with BA’s combination of forward- and backward-facing seats, labelled A-B, D-E-F-G, J-K – for a seat plan click here.
I had pre-selected aisle seat 13B – I normally prefer the backward-facing window seats in Club World but the only ones available when I checked in about 22 hours before the flight were in the back row, right in front of premium economy, which is separated from business by a bulkhead. These have the advantage of having access to the aisle without stepping over anyone’s feet, but I wanted to avoid being near the cots that may be at the front of premium economy. (As it happened they weren’t occupied, and premium economy was virtually empty; economy was similarly quiet.)
Upholstered in navy fabric with leather armrests, the seat converted to a fully-flat bed by folding down the footstool ahead. It could be divided from the seat next to me by an adjustable privacy screen. Built into the dividing wall was the control for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system and, above that, a reading light. A TV screen folded out from the divider, along with a good-sized table that bounced a great deal when I worked. A storage drawer at floor level had space for my laptop and all the bits I needed for the flight.
The seat adjusted via preset buttons in the dividing wall. My UK plug didn’t fit the power socket – I asked a flight attendant if there was a spare adaptor on board that I could borrow; she looked for me but couldn’t locate one, suggesting that I bought one from onboard duty-free (I declined).
Unfortunately, both of my armrests wobbled considerably, to the point where I considered moving – the flight attendant invited me to do so as there were plenty of free seats, but as I had already stored my bits and pieces in and above the seat, I decided to stay where I was and see how it went. Once I’d reclined the seat it was less of a problem.
More disappointing was the IFE system, which wasn’t audio-video on-demand (AVOD) and instead was the “GMIS” system comprising 12 channels with rolling movies and TV shows, and 16 audio channels. I found this really limiting, and it compared unfavourably both with other airlines’ premium products and BA’s own newer and much more impressive IFE system. Still, to be fair to BA, this is one of the 18 B777-200 aircraft being refitted with the new Thales AVOD system (along with new World Traveller and World Traveller Plus seats), so perhaps I was just unlucky.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The advantage of the forward-backward configuration in Club World is that all seats have direct access to the aisle, although if you are in a window seat you will have to climb over the legs of your neighbour if they are in fully-flat position. Conversely, if you are in an aisle seat, crew have to lean over you when serving your neighbour.
Personally, I find the window seats more private. Note that the front row (ten) is next to the galley and toilets, and the back row is directly ahead of premium economy and its bassinet seats, so avoid if you are worried about being disturbed. Centre seats E and F are ideal if you are travelling in a pair as they are positioned together and face the same way – avoid otherwise.
THE FLIGHT At 1100 the captain said there was a problem with loading cargo and there would be about a ten-minute delay in departing. In fact we did not push back until 1120 and there was a wait on the tarmac for take-off, which occurred at 1150. Once airborne I was offered an Elemis amenity kit, a hand towel and given a menu.
The meal service began about 50 minutes after take-off. The starters were Forman’s smoked salmon with capers and lemon (very nice) or aloo channa chat (potatoes and chick peas), with a salad and vinaigrette. A choice of warm breads was offered between the starters and mains. The mains were murgh makhani with khumb palak and jeere pulao (butter chicken, mushroom and spinach and basmati rice with roased cumin seeds), kadhi pakora with subz miloni and jeera pulao (gram flour dumplings in yogurt sauce, mixed vegetables and rice), hake fish pie with warm tartar sauce, or a salad of poached king prawns with roasted fennel, dill and aubergine with lemon vinaigrette.
My first choice, the chicken, had run out, which surprised me as Club World was only between half and two-thirds full and several people behind me were yet to order. I had the fish pie and enjoyed it anyway. The desserts were lemon cheesecake with blackberry compote, ice cream or cheese and biscuits, and snacks were available throughout the flight.
The wines were Taittinger Brut Reserve NV Champagne, Poilly-Fumé 2011 Domaine de Fontenille Loire (suggested as a match for the goat’s cheese starter, which wasn’t on the menu), Julien Schaal Chardonnay 2011 Elgin Valley South Africa, Château Rousseau de Sipian 2006 Médoc Bordeaux (suggested as a pairing for the beef, which wasn’t on the menu either), and La Motte Shiraz 2009 Western Cape South Africa (the menu said “try it with beef, any red meat or with pasta” – none of which featured on the menu). Plates were cleared quickly afterwards, and I was given a bottle of water. Service was excellent and friendly throughout the flight.
After the meal, the lights were dimmed. My neighbour was snoring in minutes so I put some music on to drown it out (the sound from my headphones jumped a bit from ear to ear) and switched on my light so I could do some work. Later on in the flight, snacks such as Kaju corn roll, onion bhaji, quiche Lorraine and mushroom and chive pesto savoury were served.
ARRIVAL We landed ten minutes behind schedule at 0045 and were quickly off the plane. Immigration was fairly quiet and there was about a ten-minute wait for my priority-tagged bag.
VERDICT Good service and the Club World seat, as ever, made for a comfortable flight (bar the wobbly armrests), but I missed not being able to use BA’s excellent newer IFE system. I would also have liked a wider food choice.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London Heathrow to Mumbai in October ranged between £2,077 and £5,216 depending on flexibility.