Business class closer to greatness, yet still far away

Despite being reviled by customers and critics alike, British Airways’s business class — referred to as ‘Club World’ — is undeniably important in the realm of higher flying.  It was the first true lie-flat product to enter the (uber-competitive transatlantic) market, and it single-handedly elevated the standard of what international business class should offer to premium travelers.  In the few short years after that introduction though, BA’s competitors both caught up and surpassed the original in terms of quality and value offered; Club World’s revolutionary reputation has long since faded and replaced by something far less flattering.  Perhaps no longer contempt to be the butt of jokes, British Airways announced new, much-needed investments into the passenger experiences in April 2017 and then again in March 2019.  While tangible improvements have been rolling out across all classes of service, Club World is noticeably better and now has most all of the makings of a competitive offering.  In practice is it actually competitive though?

The first longhaul leg of the “AAround the (one)world” jaunt almost never was.  Because of a brutal #delAAy (get it?) on the positioning flight out of Washington National, my three hour layover in Toronto completely evaporated.  Instead of being wheels down at 16:15 as originally planned, it wasn’t until 18:30 that we actually landed.  With the departure for London scheduled to push-back at 19:20, the 50 minute connection was already too tight for comfort.  To make matters worse, there was no ground crew ready to receive our plane on arrival, forcing us to wait for a team that could deploy the airstairs and unload our bags from the cargo hold.  A few guys meandered over after fifteen minutes or so, and it wasn’t until 18:55 that we actually deplaned.  Not only was boarding on BA 92 well under way at this point, but it was in final call.

When you transit Toronto Pearson from the United States, you’re required to pass through Canadian border control.  It doesn’t matter if you’re continuing onward to a third country; you have to go landside, clear security, and then outgoing immigration before you can proceed to your plane.  During the early evening rush hour, navigating the masses and getting airside is an immense test of patience, even for those who get to the airport early and/or have access to premium lines.  Toronto’s Terminal 3 is clean and visually attractive for sure, but its narrow corridors and its lack of passenger screening areas ensure a daily struggle to efficiently process tens of thousands of travelers.  With fewer than 25 minutes to get from gate to gate, the prospects of making the next flight were grim.

toronto pearson airport.jpg
A stock photo of the rather cramped Terminal 3 at Toronto Pearson… now imagine it full of 5,000 of your closest friends… and you have to get through it all in under half an hour.  Good luck!

Misconnecting in Toronto would have been logistically catastrophic given the nature of this trip, but tonight, God was looking out.  Shortly after beginning the frantic sprint through Pearson, an unknown number with a local area code called my phone.  At first, I was hesitant to stop and potentially waste precious, fleeting time talking to a telemarketer, but I picked up after the same number immediately redialed.

“Hello, is this Mr. Colins?” asked a voice in a thick British accent.

“Yes it is!  Who’s this?”

“This is Angela calling on behalf of the British Airways ground staff,” she explained, “and we understand that you were delayed on your inbound flight.”

“YES!  Is the plane still there at the gate?!”

“Yes, Mr. Colins, and we realize that even though you are very late, this is not your fault.  Please get landside, and a representative will meet you to escort you through expedited screening.”

“Does this mean you’re holding the plane for me?!”

“Yes, but do try to hurry please!”

Sure enough, someone in a BA uniform was waiting in the arrivals area, holding a placard with “PAUL COLINS” scrawled on it.  It was now 19:10, and we ducked in to a hidden screening area (well, at least it seemed off the beaten path.  There were no lines to speak of!).  An immigration officer approached me and asked for my passport so he could review it meanwhile I unpacked my laptop, took off my shoes, and walked through the metal detector.  Everything was handed back once through to the other side, so onward we went, power walking through the airside section of Pearson’s Terminal 3.  We arrived at the gate precisely at 19:18.  I profusely thanked the staff at the desk for all their help and patience, and then dashed down the jetway.  Everyone else had settled in previously, and the plane pushed back as soon as my butt hit the seat, precisely at 19:20.

british airways club world cabin first view
Everyone’s ready to go!


British Airways 92
Toronto Pearson (YYZ) – London Heathrow (LHR)
Scheduled Departure:  19:20 (19:35 wheels up)
Scheduled Arrival:  6:25 (6:30 wheels down)
Duration:  5:55
Aircraft:  Boeing 777-200
Seat:  10G

One by one, the flight attendants responsible for my aisle came by to both introduce themselves and congratulate me on making it onboard by the skin of my teeth.  “We have to maintain the sched-jewel” explained Hugh, the purser, “and thanks to your hustle, we will!”  He later apologized that because takeoff would be so soon, there wouldn’t be enough time to serve pre-departure beverages beyond an extra bottle of water to help me catch my breath… but that’s more than alright!

british airways club world hard seat
Arriving at 10G

This was my first time flying British Airways’s Club World product, and after reading so many negative reviews of it leading up to this trip, expectations couldn’t have gotten much lower.  It’s hard to get excited about something that’s so reviled, and beyond the noise from other commentators, there’s something so uninspiring about a business class product that’s arranged in a supremely dense 2-4-2 configuration.

Yet despite that, settling in to 10G was a pleasant surprise.  Perhaps being overcome by relief from having just made the flight led to an inflated first impression, but the chair was well-padded and had just the right amount of support without feeling overstuffed.  This wasn’t a bad start to say the least, in fact, it was actually good.

british airways club world hard seat accessories
Most all of the amenities that you’ll get on a BA Club World flight

A plush pillow, a single comforter, an amenity kit, a pair of “noise-cancelling” headphones, and a bottle of water awaited passengers at each seat.  One of the more troublesome issues with the hard product revealed itself shortly after this discovery though:  there’s not really a lot of in-seat storage.  It’s nice to have all of these goodies for sure, but where exactly is someone supposed to keep all of them when they’re not in use?  Truly, when you look around you see quite a bit of features…

british airways club world hard seat side column
A column of sorts, serving as both a partition between seats and as a mount for the seat’s “essentials.”
british airways club world hard seat side column alternate view 2
Looking forward to the front half of the seat.

…but aside from a small drawer just above the floor…

british airways club world hard seat side column drawer closed
You’d be forgiven if you overlooked this!  Also notice the literature pouch just big enough to hold only the safety card.
british airways club world hard seat side column drawer open
For scale, you’d be able to fit an iPad — but not a laptop — in here, and also those headphones and the amenity kit.

…there’s not really a place for you to keep your belongings close to you.  There’s always the overhead bins, but those are inherently inconvenient and more dirty (who wants to keep a pillow next to all these scuffy rollaboards?).  THF has long preached the value of selecting bulkhead seats — especially in business class — and doing so on British Airways affords you a small nook between the back of the adjacent chair and the wall ahead.  You could cram your shoes in there, a laptop, and, if you dare, the bedding when it’s not in use.

british airways club world hard seat hidden storage space
Not exactly the cleanest place for an unwrapped pillow, but it’s definitely better than an overhead bin!

The centrally-located console otherwise suffices in housing most all of the things you could possibly want during the flight.  It also doubles as a partition, making the seat feel somewhat more private by partially separating you from your neighbor… although there’s a limit to how private anyone can feel in a 2-4-2 configured cabin.

british airways club world hard seat side column alternate view
A lot of what you’ll likely use in flight is pictured here

Both the tray table and the in flight entertainment are mounted on this console, and they swing out to face you with the push of a button.  Furthermore they can both easily be manipulated in to positions that suit you best.  Say you’re watching a movie and decide to recline the seat.  You don’t want to distort the display’s viewing angle while you’re lying prone, so thankfully with a little bit of pressure, you can lower the screen so it faces downward.

british airways club world hard seat side column tray table 1
The in flight entertainment stowed away and the tray table partially deployed.  The display could swing out if need be, and the table is folded in half.

Even better, the tray table is mounted on a long roller.  If you need the surface close to you, like when you’re eating, it can be.  But say you need to stand up and don’t want to completely clear your belongings from the table, it can extend far enough away from you to give you ample, unimpeded space to enter the aisle.

british airways club world hard seat side column tray table 2
The tray table when positioned closest to the passenger

Adjacent to the tray table are the seat controls.  In theory they’re simple to use, complete with presets for takeoff and landing, lounging, sleeping, and also sitting completely up straight.  There’s not a lot of advanced customization beyond those choices, but what’s there does the trick; it’s easy to get comfortable.  However, the buttons themselves were showing their age.  In order for them to function, I had to push on them really hard to the point where you’d think they were non-functioning.  This is just natural wear and tear (or so they say), but that isn’t criteria for forgiving this shortcoming either.  Instead it’s a sign that the product is in need of a refresh.

british airways club world hard seat side column seat controls
Seat controls past their primes

Almost all the inputs for the in flight entertainment are kept next to the controls and close to the passenger at around shoulder height.  There’s a remote for the in flight entertainment — which bordered on unnecessary because the display features a perfectly functioning touch screen — as well as a two-pronged headphone jack, a USB charging port, and some audio/visual input jacks for those rocking RCA cables.  These are all easily accessible and convenient for users, as you’ll seldom have to reach far for something.

british airways club world hard seat side column entertainment controls
Your one-stop place for all of your IFE controls

On the complete opposite end of the center console, down and away from the passenger, is another USB port and a universal outlet for all of your power needs.  You could stash your devices in the aforementioned drawer and the bulkhead nook while they charge, but that’s not exactly a glamorous solution nor is it user-friendly.  It further drives home the point that there’s a woeful amount of in-seat storage in BA Club World; you shouldn’t have to struggle to find a storage spot for something as portable/essential as a laptop.

british airways club world hard seat side column power
Notice the amount of grime surrounding the USB port and outlet.  Yuck!

For the passengers who need light to read, work, and/or not be afraid of the dark, there’s a reading lamp built in to the chair as well.  There are limited options when it comes to its positioning, but the intensity of the light can at least be adjusted on a slider.

british airways club world hard seat reading light
Flip the switch to reveal and turn on the light!

While there are some gripes mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, none of them are all too serious.  Old buttons can be easily fixed, and while there’s no natural solution to a lack of in-seat storage, it ultimately equates to a nuisance.  And besides, there are far more glaring issues — ones that actually impede on passenger comfort — such as the narrowness of the seat.

british airways club world hard seat alternate view
You really notice how narrow this chair is when you’re actually sitting down

The common consensus throughout the internet is that the width of the Club World seat is 20 inches.  That’s already one of the most cramped business class products in the sky (Singapore Airlines’s business class, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is 30 inches wide), but that measurement also includes the privacy partitions on both sides of the chair.  The actual cushion was, by my guesstimation, only about 18 or 19 inches wide… comparable to what you’d get in premium economy or domestic first class.  For expensive long haul travel, it’s hard to not want something a little bit more.

Going back to those privacy partitions, Club World seats are arranged in a “yin-and-yang” layout.  In practice this means that two chairs share the same center console, but while one passenger faces forward, the other faces backwards.  If you’re traveling with someone — hopefully someone you like — then it should be no problem to be sitting face-to-face.  If not, then there’s a privacy partition that you can raise to shield yourself from an audience.  If the whole set up sounds awkward, well, that’s because it is.  And, unless you’re a fan of the design language of a frosted Tupperware container, prepare to be horrified by a chintzy, shabby looking retractable-wall when it’s up.

british airways club world hard seat bed mode privacy partition
On the other side of this hideous divider is a stranger.  Neither are exactly the sights you’d wish to see when you’re eating, watching a movie, and trying to sleep.

That’s definitely not higher flyer, but the opposite side of this is somehow even more of a let down.  There’s something that protrudes outward ever so slightly from the seat’s “shell” that theoretically hides your head and face from passers by the aisle…

british airways club world hard seat outer privacy shield

…but as you can see below, it doesn’t do its job very well.  Seats on the aisle are very, very exposed.  Windows, conversely, don’t have this problem, so try to pre-select one of these if you can.  It’ll make for a far more pleasant experience.

british airways club world hard seat view neighbor
Hopefully this poor fella doesn’t mind sleeping all out in the open.  Also notice the pair sitting “face-to-face” with the partition lowered.

The center section’s overhead “lockers” (to borrow a BA-ism) are positioned further away from the aisle than the actual seats are.  Some commentators have argued that BA (practically-speaking) makes people sit in the aisle, and views like the one below prove that such assertions aren’t completely crazy/exaggerated.

british airways club world hard seat view upwards
Looking directly upward from 10G.  It’s seldom that you’re seated further out than the overhead storage bins…

Moving right along from one unfortunate aspect to another, the seat’s footrest is downright janky in terms of both looks and functionality.  It’s folded up right by default…

british airways club world hard seat legrest ottoman

…where it gives the passenger access to a non-expandable, hard plastic literature pouch.  There’s enough space inside for a few magazines and the menu and that’s about it.  It borders on being useless, but that nit-pick pales in comparison when you have to use the contraption for its intended purpose.

british airways club world hard seat legrest ottoman literature pouch
This is more of a literature slat than pouch, but whatever.  #semantics

The simple task of putting your feet up first requires you to release the lever that holds the cushion in place.

british airways club world hard seat legrest ottoman release mechanism
Imagine how many fingers have touched that piece of metal.

And then manually lower the ottoman in to place — or let gravity work its magic — and presto!  You’re all set.  It’s not all that complicated of a process, but when you look at the fit and finish of products offered by BA’s competitors on similar routes, the solution here is remarkably unimpressive.  Add in the fact that the cushion starts sagging when you apply even the slightest bit of pressure, and you’re bound to be disappointed by such an uninspired showing.  Obviously having this is essential to having a lie-flat bed, and that’s inherently better than the alternatives, but still:  you can’t, yet again, help but want more.

british airways club world hard seat legrest ottoman released
The ottoman in the down position.
british airways club world hard seat legrest ottoman released floor space
The feet of yours truly, shown for scale
british airways club world hard seat legrest ottoman released relax
Ahh.  All settled in!

Apparently the ottoman is also capable of other tricks — it can also be a footrest or go in to a “Z-position” — although the hinge/slider/whatever mechanical function enables these didn’t work properly at all at 10G on this particular 777.  That’s fine in the grand scheme of things, but add another tally mark to the “things that need to be refreshed” counter.

british airways club world hard seat legrest ottoman instructions
Cool in theory, impossible in practice (at 10G, at least)

All of these shortcomings with the hard product are definitely noticeable (in the worst possible way), which is a real shame.  If you look around the cabin, it’s clear that BA has a sense of style.  If you peer ahead in to First Class for example, you’ll catch a glimpse of edgy blue mood lighting.  If you actually walk up there, then you’ll be in for an even bigger treat (provided that you don’t get jealous!).

british airways club world hard seat view in to first class
Is this an airplane cabin or the lobby of a W Hotel?

And even when the curtain is closed immediately after takeoff, there are still some cool, classy touches for those traveling in Club World.

british airways club world hard seat view
Just because you’re partitioned off from the highest of higher flyers doesn’t mean that you’re in some sterile tube!

The light fixtures are probably the most inspired designs, such as the one that’s pictured below and is mounted on the forward-center bulkhead (right above 10G, coincidentally).  The soft lighting and faux-wood looks even better than what the photograph can capture, and it creates an aesthetically-pleasing centerpiece without being overbearing or obnoxious.

british airways club world cabin bulkhead accent
Despite looking at this for the entire flight, the view never grew old.

It looks rather striking when the cabin lights are off too!

british airways club world cabin logo dramatically lit
mmmm, bold lighting for the win!

The other bulkheads — so the forward walls outside of the two center aisles — have honest-to-goodness lamps on them.  These too add a lot to the cabin’s ambiance without being tacky or over-done, and as an added benefit, they minimize the use of harsh fluorescent lighting.

british airways club world cabin bulkhead light
Adding some much appreciated flair to Club World

That said, some fixtures are better executed than others.  There’s nothing else in the sky quite like the giant light drum in BA Club World — seriously, it’s a chandelier but with a giant lamp shade over top of it — but ya know how sometimes a patio lamp collects dead insects…?

british airways club world cabin chandelier
Either these are dead insects or dust bunnies.  Neither are welcome sights at 38,000 feet.  Cool idea, at least.

Yeah… that’s gross, but seeing these objectively neat-yet-practical features next to the privacy partitions and the ottomans (among other design flops) is a dramatic juxtaposition.  It reinforces the argument BA has the potential to do so much better with Club World’s hard product.  Maybe the refresh coming later in 2019 will live up to the potential… here’s to hoping!

Anyway, there was no time during the scramble through the Toronto airport to stop for a bathroom break, so as soon as the seatbelt sign was off only 5 minutes after takeoff, I was in the lavatory for some relief.

british airways club world cabin lavatory toilet
The toilet seat was up initially, which was convenient for me, but perhaps others might find this offensive.

British Airways’ loos are nothing out of the ordinary for international business class.  They’re decently sized and kept decently clean, although these particular ones are starting to show their age with “perma-grime” accumulating here and there.

british airways club world cabin lavatory sink
The sink had some grime near the drain, but was otherwise unremarkable.

A couple bottles of the same The White Company-branded cream are available for use.  The product is fine and it can moisten your skin just as well as any other, but the rack that the bottles are stored on is somewhat comical.  It’s clearly made to house three containers, but BA only offers two.  Is it because the airline is cheap or…?

british airways club world cabin lavatory other amentities
Hmmm, it seems like something is missing here…

There is a hand wash too of course, but fans of The White Company are going to be disappointed; this soap is instead manufactured by Freshorize, a company focused exclusively on developing industrial-grade products that promote in-flight hygiene.  Go figure!

british airways club world cabin lavatory soap
While more generic than the others, this lavatory amenity was fine for what it was.

Speaking of good hygiene on airplanes, BA provides seat wipes for germ-sensitive passengers like yours truly.  These don’t cost a lot, but I really appreciate being able to sterilize surfaces before using them.

british airways club world cabin lavatory cleansing wipe
One of the most underrated features in an airplane’s lavatory

Lastly, there’s a foldable, cushioned bench that you can use inside the lavatory.  This feature is remarkably helpful for when you want to change but don’t have the flexibility to carefully balance yourself while trying to put pants on.

british airways club world cabin lavatory bench
This is a great for when you want to change clothing mid-flight.

Given that this was a short overnight flight and it was in everyone’s best interest to get to sleep as soon as possible, the crew sprung in to action to commence the main meal service.  Indeed, in the time before returning from the lavatory, a flight attendant had proactively raised the privacy partition, deployed the tray table, and stood a menu up on top of it.

british airways club world soft meal menu 1
Some proactive service

Roughly a year before taking this flight, British Airways announced a new dining concept in Club World as part of a £400 million investment in to its international business class product.  While it took quite some time for the improved meals to be rolled out to all of BA’s long haul routes, Toronto was among the first to receive them.  The first page of the menu celebrated this enhancement…

british airways club world soft meal menu 2
A focus on “provenance and seasonality?”  Sign me up.  Click image to zoom in.

…although subsequent pages seemed rather…ordinary.  That’s not to say that its contents looked unappetizing, but compared to its competitors and counterparts, BA’s selection is right on par with the rest.  There’s the usual selection of alcoholic beverages and spirits available, but a few were specifically highlighted:  two cocktails, three champagnes, two white wines, and two more reds.

Cocktails and one type of champagne.  Click image to zoom in.
british airways club world soft meal menu 4
The two other champagnes.  Click image to zoom in.
british airways club world soft meal menu 5
The white wine list.  Click image to zoom in.
The red wine list.  Click image to zoom in.

Five minutes later the flight attendant working the “starboard” aisle, Laura, kneeled down by my side to take drink orders.  That was a nice, personable touch, and after hemming and hawing, she recommended the Buck’s Fizz, which, in effect, is a mimosa.  Rather charmingly, she promised to return with one quickly for “some experiential sampling.”  By all means:  don’t let me stop you!

While British Airways’s new and refined Club World meal service is an important step forward, it is far from being revolutionary.  The cutting-edge in 2019 is dine-on-demand, and while BA isn’t close to being at that level yet, such a short-coming is forgivable on a quick overnight flight.  When else would you eat both a multiple multi-course meal and breakfast?

Nevertheless you pick an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert… or just a starter and a dessert if you’re in a rush to get to sleep.

british airways club world soft meal menu 7
The starters and the mains.  Click image to zoom in.
Desserts and cheeses.  Click image to zoom in.

In order to potentially maximize sleeping time for those who want it, flight attendants distribute a breakfast card in addition to the main menu.  On this, passengers can mark whether they want to be woken up for breakfast or not, and those who do opt for more food are treated to a decent yet hardly unique menu.  Simply make your choices when placing your dinner order, and the crew will take it from there.

british airways club world soft breakfast menu card
Bread over bed!  Gotta maximize the review after all.

Anyway, before Laura came back with the Buck’s Fizz, a different flight attendant swung by to drop off a hot towel a mere 12 minutes after wheels up.  It was clear that the crew was hustling and working as a team to speed through the meal service, and the efforts were definitely appreciated.

british airways club world soft predeparture hot towel
The most efficient hot towel service ever?  Possibly!

But there were some clear and obvious hiccups.  While the hot towel service was completed within 15 minutes of takeoff, there was a 15 minute delay between the conclusion of that and then being served the introductory cocktail and warm nuts.  During that period, not a single flight attendant walked through the cabin — that’s forgivable though! — presumably because they were all in the galley hard at work.

british airways club world soft beverage service 2
The meal begins in earnest with the presentation of the nut ramekin and a healthy-sized cocktail.

To be starting the meal service in earnest so soon after departure is a testament to the skill of the crew, but the initial delay nevertheless both felt awkward AND foreshadowed what was yet to come.

british airways club world soft beverage service 1
The nuts were warm and the cocktail was cool.  It was the perfect start.

Another half hour went by with no sign of a flight attendant — the flow of dinner throughout the cabin was noticeably disjointed at this point — until finally at the one hour mark the first main tray of food came out.  To start:  the “Seared Pacific scallops [with the] cauliflower and saffron purée, grilled asparagus.”

british airways club world soft meal tray 1
The appetizer, served with a roll and side salad.

While the gap in service between the warm nuts and actual substantive food was mildly annoying, the wait was worth it.  The dish’s flavors complemented each other perfectly, and the textures were varied but not so that it was an obnoxious affair.  There’s nothing worse than rubbery scallops either, and these amazingly (given the context:  airplanes don’t usually mix well with fine dining) had a melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

british airways club world soft meal tray 1 appetizer
A genuinely delicious dish to start

There was a small salad off to the side, with a hunk of yellow pepper and two cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette.

british airways club world soft meal tray 1 salad
An especially small salad, but still satisfying

There was also a still-warm multi-grain roll included with the appetizer.  It was tasty, although it may have been a day old; it wasn’t the freshest thing ever.  Airplane cabins aren’t exactly known for being optimal places to store and serve bread, so perhaps that worsened the quality of it.

british airways club world soft meal tray 1 warm roll
Visible oats on this multi-grain roll!

To round the appetizer out, a third stewardess came by with bottles of still and sparkling water.  She poured everyone a single glass of their choice, but never returned for refills.  Perhaps she was called to help facilitate the dinner rush elsewhere.

british airways club world soft meal tray 1 water
Still water, here in ornate glassware.

For that matter, there were no proactive refills at all during the entire dinner.  And not only that, but the empty glass that used to hold the Buck’s Fizz sat on the tray table even after a fourth (!!!) crew member came by to clear up the appetizer.  Laura then dropped off the entree soon thereafter, but alas the glass remained after she returned to the galley.  Another faux pas in the service, but hey, at least the “Spinach Gnocchi [with] roasted butternut squash, sage brown butter, buffalo mozzarella” was served only five minutes after finishing the introductory scallops.

british airways club world soft meal tray 2
The main course “fresh” from the “kitchen.”

It was nice not having to wait long to continue eating, and while the main course neither the most visibly-appealing nor the tastiest dish, it was fine.  It was filling and the portion was just right, but if this gnocchi was my last supper, it would’ve been a decidedly lame thing to end on.

british airways club world soft meal entree
If you look quick enough, the main course seems like just green and orange mush.  At least it was more flavorful.

But the speedy-again yet not-so-attentive service kept chugging along, and five minutes after finishing the entree, Laura plated the final course:  a toffee and pear Charlotte.

british airways club world soft meal tray 3 dessert
Good things come in small packages

To borrow a BA-ism again, the dessert was devilishly delicious.  I devoured it in only a few spoonfuls, and each bite tasted like it could’ve had 200 calories in it.  Along with the scallops, this creamy delight was one of the highlights of dinner.

The tray tables were cleared for good at the 1 hour and 40 minute mark of the flight, which, with about four-and-a-half hours to go til London, left time for some meaningful sleep.  Could there have been more?  Maybe a little, especially with the initial delay between the nuts and the appetizer, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a quicker multi-course meal service on a different carrier.  Kudos are due to BA’s crew.  There were a few unforced errors, yes, but because everyone was hustling so hard to expediently serve an otherwise full cabin, it’s impossible not to forgive the mistakes.

Right before the cabin lights were turned down, I changed in to pajamas to get more comfortable and unpacked the amenity kit before settling in for the night.  The kit, a handsome faux leather pouch with The White Company branding, was stuffed full.

british airways club world soft amentity kit

british airways club world soft amentity kit slightly open

The contents, like so many other aspects of the British Airways Club World experience, are about what you would expect elsewhere.  That’s to say that there’s enough useful stuff — the socks and eyeshades are made out of a nice material and it’s always good to have a toothbrush — but there’s nothing comparatively extraordinary.

british airways club world soft amentity kit contents
Useful?  Yes.  Memorable?  Not really.

There was also some time to go through the literature pouch in the ottoman, and in addition to a generic magazine loaded with sponsored content (called High Life, which complements The Higher Flyer in a purely titular sense) and a duty free catalog, there’s a brochure guide to the seat.  The last of these is perfect for when you’re inevitably confused by how the ottoman is supposed to work.

british airways club world soft literature

Larger literature racks are mounted on the bulkhead directly above 10G (and 10D for that matter, the other center section aisle seat).  There’s a wider selection compared to what’s offered at each individual seat, but no one came by to take one of the other magazines.  That’s definitely for the best though, as it would’ve been annoying to have people reaching over me to peruse through them.

british airways club world cabin literature rack
Completely ignored during the flight.

Laura appeared from the galley yet again around this time, handing out bottles of water and helping passengers turn down their beds.  British Airways doesn’t advertise this turn down service, so it was especially kind of her to go out of her way to make everyone feel more comfortable.  I had already laid down the sheet when she came, but she insisted on fluffing up the pillow.

british airways club world hard seat bed mode 1

When fully reclined, the seat almost looks like a sleeping bag depending on the angle you view it from.  While this bed has infinitely better padding than what you’d get on the floor, it’s narrower than the average sleeping bag.  Heaven help you if you’re a side sleeper and you sleep with your knees bent.  As someone who is one, I can speak from experience:  there’s simply not enough lateral space to get truly comfortable.

british airways club world hard seat bed mode 2
It’s feels nice to lay on, moving around is deeply limited.

Aisle seats in Club World are already reviled both here (see above) and throughout the higher flyer community for being far too exposed.  This critique of the seat carries even more weight when it’s in bed mode; to write that passengers are practically sleeping in the aisle isn’t a hyperbole.

british airways club world hard seat bed mode 3
Notice how nearly a third of the ottoman extends past the bulkhead divider up ahead.

Even if you have no concept of personal privacy, you’re bound to notice how little of it you actually have when you’re lying down and facing forward.  Seriously, in the bulkhead position, the dividing curtain between the cabin and the galley rests on the edge of the ottoman.  That’s gross from a hygiene perspective, and gross in the sense that a 2-4-2 configuration is far too dense for a competitive international business class product.

british airways club world hard seat bed mode view
There’s no way to put it:  this isn’t great.

Despite the wonderful, fluffy pillow, sleeping on this flight was challenging because of three reasons.

  1. There are no individual air vents, and the cabin was kept at an uncomfortably warm temperature.  That’s a shame, but also far too common on non-US airlines.  The blankets provided are also very warm, and while that can be a blessing for some, it was a curse for me.
  2. You know how the rim surrounding the outer edge of the ottoman (pictured immediately above) protrudes out from the wall?  Well, it functions as a physical barrier, and I know this because it seemed like everyone who used the lavatories during the flight bumped in to this part of the seat while passing through.  If they somehow missed that protrusion, then they would still, without fail, inadvertently brush against me while passing by and wake me up.  This probably isn’t as big of a problem in the other, non-bulkhead aisle seats, but frequent rude interruptions can be infuriating if you’re trying to get anything remotely close to a good night’s sleep.
  3. SeatGuru frequently warns users to avoid bulkhead seats because of their proximity to lavatories and/or galleys and/or bright lights.  If you find yourself in Club World on a British Airways 777, heed these warnings.  Below is a picture of the cabin with the lights fully dimmed.  See that “flash” in the top right?  That’s from the galley and the emergency exit.  Is 10G adjacent to that?  Yup!  Do the dividing curtains block the light…?british airways club world cabin dark 1
    Nope!british airways club world hard seat bed mode view alternate
    So unfortunately for me, what you see above is about as dark as it got for the entire flight.  It’s not an optimal situation for deep sleep, but then again, airplanes usually aren’t anyway.  Oh well.

Because of these three reasons, I tossed and turned for two hours and never really “lost consciousness.”  With about another two hours yet to go still, I cut my losses, crankily vowed to never choose a bulkhead aisle seat on BA ever again, and then explored the in flight entertainment system until it was time for breakfast.  First up, the moving map, which was intricately detailed and informative, high resolution, and allowed the user to create custom views of the flight path.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment moving map
The excellent moving map, although here it’s telling me that there’s quite a bit of flying yet to go.

If you prefer something a little bit more dynamic than an airplane’s avatar inching across a screen, British Airways has you covered with its extensive collection of movies, TV shows, audio content, and games.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment main menu
The IFE’s main menu

All of the movies up for Oscars were present and accounted for, as well as a few indie flicks and foreign films.  Bollywood’s well-represented too, so given all of these options to choose from, it’s likely that you won’t have trouble finding something new and/or interesting to watch.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment hit movies
2018’s Best Picture was available for viewing

British Airways also pays for entire seasons of hit TV shows, including some that air on premium channels like HBO.  The licensing is no doubt a hefty investment, and it’s nice to see that the carrier is willing to splurge in this regard.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment tv series
The Iron Throne > a seat in Club World

Both types of video — so movies and TV shows alike — are sorted thematically for ease of access/discovery.  Fancy something informative and newsy?  Check out the “Daily News & Catch Up TV” section.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment news
Can BA really offer up-to-date news programming?  Unknown, but at least it’s trying.

Want something more…mindless?  Then there are the “Guilty Pleasures” for your enjoyment.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment guilty pleasures
Nothing like the smutty television drama offered by the Kardashians

If you’re more internationally-minded, there’s all sorts of foreign programming…

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment global selection

…and the “Best of British” collection for something that’s a little closer to home.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment best of british

As part of BA’s aforementioned multimillion dollar investment in the passenger experience, the carrier will be outfitting its planes with wifi in the coming years.  While it has been slow to roll out across the fleet — the 777 starring in this review hasn’t been updated yet — the IFE software has already been updated to reflect the new functionality.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment service details
You can theoretically learn about BA’s onboard wifi here.

While you can’t do anything on the internet if your plane doesn’t have the capability to access it, seeing the signage for it is encouraging nevertheless.  Dead/inactive hyperlinks abound, but hey, small steps.

british airways club world soft in flight entertainment service details broken
Hopefully screens like these will soon be things of the past!

An hour later and with an hour yet to go, Laura appeared.  “Mr. Colins,” she asked, “are you still planning on having breakfast?”  After saying yes, she pulled out the breakfast card from earlier and confirmed my choices:  “Bircher muesli with dried fruit,” “A scrambled egg and cheddar in wholegrain pita,” and a smoothie to wash it all down.  Those all (still) looked to be the best tasting options, and so Laura returned only a few moments later with a place setting and a tray of food.

british airways club world soft meal arrival snack tray
The most important meal of the day is here!

If you have seen a more rectangular scrambled egg, please let me know.  Aside from the “blegh” presentation, the breakfast sandwich was satisfying enough.  It wasn’t delicious per se, but aside from the few unfortunate bites that had too much bread and not enough egg and/or cheese, the flavors were otherwise neutral and non-offensive.  No one would accuse this of being inedible, but they likely wouldn’t call it memorable either.

british airways club world soft meal arrival snack sandwich
The expression “meh” embodied in a single meal.

The muesli was outright good, and the dried fruits on top of it added some bursts of sweetness and made for a more interesting texture.  This wasn’t your average bowl of gruel.  The smoothie though was undoubtedly the best part of the meal.  Its consistency was if it had been freshly blended — it wasn’t; do they even have blenders at 38,000 feet? — and it was obviously nutritious but it didn’t taste… “healthy” if ya catch my drift.

british airways club world soft meal arrival snack oatmeal and smoothie

Despite all the indications that the flight was soon coming to an end in less than an hour, wheels down itself came as a bit of a surprise.  The pilot, Captain Steven Tyler (?), announced that we were beginning our descent, so the flight attendants as per usual quickly cleaned up the cabin and woke up the passengers who were still sprawled about in their “beds.”  The overhead lights were kept low and the window shades were drawn, and then all of a sudden there was a bump and a screech of the tires.  A few moments later we were deplaning in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 more or less on time.  It was an abrupt, boringly unsatisfying ending.  This was actually the most appropriate way to conclude this leg of the trip.  Did British Airways take me where I needed to go?  Yes.  Was it safe?  Definitely.  Was the flight as ordinary as could be?  Despite its numerous flaws, yes, Club World at least does the bare minimum to keep the promises it makes to higher flyers:  you’ll get a flat bed, a good meal, and decent service.  Nothing was particularly memorable or glamorous per se — compared to any economy class product, this is far superior — but nor was this a genuinely terrible experience… that has to count for something, right?

British Airways’s Club World, on paper, has everything that you could want in an international business class product.  Indeed, you’ll get a lie-flat seat no matter where you fly and you can indulge in meals from a newly upgraded menu.  Its cabin crews manning the galleys are efficient, and any amenity you could want is never too far away.  Club World definitely looks good, but in practice, it struggles to meet its full potential.  The carrier merely checks the boxes of a list of expectations for business class, nothing more, nothing less.  Being able to sleep in a “bed” for instance is undoubtedly a huge benefit, but the hyper-dense 2-4-2 configuration hinders the quality and all but eliminates any element of luxury.  Similarly, British Airways’s investment in the meal service is appreciated, but comparatively it’s nothing special; you’ll eat better on United.  Of course it could always be worse, and this review’s final verdict reflects British Airways’s Club World collectively:  serviceable yet anticlimactic.

The good, the bad, the ugly of British Airways Club World

  • The Good
    • The food service was pretty good — albeit not perfect, but neither were the circumstances — but the real star of the flight was…
    • The cabin crew, who all worked so, so hard to provide all the components of a successful redeye flight in a small window of time.
    • The new-and-improved bedding was good and with such a big, plush pillow, sleeping could’ve been easy…
  • The Bad
    • …but it wasn’t.  It would’ve been much better if the seat were wider and not so close to the aisle.  Being bumped in to by passersby will forever be frustrating.
    • And aside from that, the hard product is in dire need of a refresh.  It’s simply not competitive any more.
  • The Ugly
    • The speedy meal service came at the expense of attentive service.  Is that a fair trade-off to make?  Maybe, maybe not.  It all depends on what you value.

“AAround the (one)world” Trip Report

  • Introduction:  AAround the (one)world
  • British Airways Club World (Business Class), Boeing 777-200, YYZ-LHR
  • Finnair Business Class, Airbus A350-900, LHR-HEL-ICN
  • Finnair Business Class Lounge (Non-Schengen Zone), Helsinki (HEL)
  • Park Hyatt Seoul, South Korea
  • Japan Airlines Business Class (Shorthaul), Boeing 737-800, ICN-NRT
  • Japan Airlines First Class Lounge, Tokyo (HND)
  • Japan Airlines First Class, Boeing 777-300ER, HND-SFO
  • The Palace Hotel, San Francisco, California
  • Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, San Francisco (SFO)
  • Alaska Airlines First Class (Legacy Virgin America), Airbus A320, SFO-IAD
  • “Why would you do this?”  A look at the status implications of “AAround the (one)world”
  • Around the World in 120 Hours

Have you flown British Airways Club World? What are your thoughts?

In loving memory of DdC.  Thank you forever for teaching me what it means to be a higher flyer, and moreover, for encouraging me to dream higher.  Rest in paradise, my friend.