Monday, March 30, 2009

Seat Review - British Airways Club World (long-haul business class)

A work conference in Madrid opened up the chance to fly with British Airways long haul Business Class (or Club World). It is now a piece of Air industry folk law that one of the main outcomes battle between BA Club World and Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class for UK customer traffic to the US resulted in BA introducing a fully flat bed into business class, changing the definition of long haul business class forever.

I remember the first time I tried the BA flat bed and it was a revelation. Today some 9 years later and the product is even better. For your BOOT correspondent the seat is the best in the sky. I think Singapore Airlines has an edge in Service, Qantas has an edge in food and Virgin Atlantic has an edge in the BOOT factor (that something extra) but judged stand alone on the seat I prefer BA’s Club World to any other business class seat I have tried. On seat alone BA would win against another seat review so far. The overall rating has been let down by the entertainment system, placement of World Traveller (premium economy) and online check-in experience (probably highlighting a flaw in my scoring system).

The BOOT rating for British Airways International Business Class (Club World) is a 4.5 stars out of 6 or "Good Seat". Here is the detailed review
(Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews) (other seat reviews can be found here)

Getting on Board

Score 0.5

The Boarding process was uneventful but my check in process was a disappointment. I checked in online about 8 hours before the flight. This is supposed to be an advantage as it means I can get to the airport later and should have pick of seats. In the end it was a significant disadvantage. Firstly I could not print out a priority pass for going through Immigration quickly. The immigration priority queue requires this pass – it is not enough to have a premium class boarding pass. [thankfully I always carry a spare priority pass for these occasions]. Secondly I could not check in all the way even though my London to Madrid leg is also on BA, because it is on a separate ticket. My colleague checking in at the airport was given a boarding pass for the whole trip but I had to wait until I arrived in London to get my final boarding pass. Finally the machines at the gates are not designed to support bar code boarding passes – only magnetic strip ones. It meant that I had to pause at each gate while they looked me up manually. I will not be checking in for long haul BA again. Getting off the plane is also annoying. World Traveller Plus (BA’s premium economy) is physically located between First and Business, Means that if the front door is the only door opened that premium economy gets off before business. Sounds petty to type it out loud but every person ahead of me off the plane is a person ahead of me in the immigration queue, customs or quarantine queue and taxi queue. Each person adds minutes to me getting to my destination. 40 people can therefore add a annoying additional time to me getting where I want to go.

The Seat

Score 1.0

This will be the shortest part of the review. The BA Club World seat is the near perfect long haul business seat. It is comfortable, flat and spacious. The table slides easily to allow entry and exit without have to remove food or a notebook. The controls are easy to manage and out of the way enough not to be bumped mid flight. Sleeping is as good as I have experienced, mainly because the size of the seat allows for multiple sleeping positions. To be perfect the seat could be about 20 cm longer and 15 cm wider and maybe a little bit more cocooned. But then it would be a first class seat.

The Service

Score 0.5

BA are not in the class of Singapore Airlines for their attentiveness and detail but there is nothing worthy of a negative comment. Staff appear when requested and are eager to be a support.

The Food

Score 1.0

It seems mean to write the first thing that came to my mind when contemplating a review of the food on BA Club World. Anyway here it is. If you like English food you will love the food on BA Club World. My thought about the food is not meant to be as negative as that comment implies. Just like English restaurants are into their 10th year of a revolution to become some of the best in the world, so too BA have dramatically lifted the quality of their food. I was a bit disappointed with the cold/pre-plated dishes as on the whole they were dry and flavourless. But I enjoyed each of the mains presented. The Englishness of some of the servings was annoying (for example only marmalade is served with breakfast and I can’t stand the stuff). BA is the upper bracket with food. There are better airlines (ie Qantas) but BA has tipped over that point that turns a flight from manageable to enjoyable.

The Entertainment

Score 0.5

The BA video on demand system is neither remarkable nor sub-standard. It does what it is supposed to do – provide movies and TV on demand. However it behind competitors on the number of options available and some of the system functionalities. It is missing the huge breadth of Singapore Airlines (and the new United Airlines system for that matter) and the menu system is less intuitive. It takes longer with the BA system to look through the entire list of movies. This is all a software and content issues. BA would do well to upgrade.

The BOOT factor

Score 1.0

Just like BA led with the first fully flat bed (and podcasts on how to sleep) I have always liked and watch others try to copy the BA larder. The collection of food and drinks available for passengers to graze on at their leisure. It seems simple but I find easy access to a broad selection of fresh fruit ( and I admit it chocolate) makes for a great way to break up the tedium of 24 hours staring at a flicking screen. I also really like the laptop draw in the seat. If is large enough to fit everything I want at my fingertips during the flight – notebook, document wallet, book, iPod, toiletries. A little thing that makes a real difference. Only anti-BOOT factor is the size of the upstairs bathroom which I found cramped.

Final Score

4.5 - Good Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

thanks to matt.hintsa on Flickr for the photo


Tung Nguyen said...

A very nice and comprehensive review, thanks for posting!

rod cuthbert said...

Tim, While agreeing with your review, I want to add something extra: having flown more times than I'd care to remember, and in all cabins of the plane, it occurs to me there's very little relationship between which seat or cabin you're in, or indeed the physical environment of the plane in general, and whether you have a "good flight." The two things that really have an impact are your own physical and mental state when you board, and the people around you. Frankly, if it's a choice between a good mood plus interesting seatmates and a lousy mood plus snooty, silent fellow travelers, then I'd take an economy seat on Bezurkistan Airways over first on SQ any day. (Fortunately, I usually fly QF and BA, so it's not an issue...)

Tim Hughes said...

@ Tung thanks for the attempted spam link in your comment. Always appreciated.

@Rod - agree (except if it means flying Garuda!)

Santorini said...

Great reviews

Anonymous said...

lol rod, whatever you say!!!!

i will take the flatbed first class seat with 'snooty' passengers any day thanks. im not on the plane to make friends.

Anonymous said...

the seats aren't bad, but BA has the customer service in the business. If you have any issues or requirements different from the norm, God help you, because BA won't!

Anonymous said...

I think on printing boarding passes and not being able to check in on connection flight because you had separate tickets, that is not my experience. You just check in for both flights and at the airport, if you have luggage, you show both boarding passes and your luggage will be checked to your final destination...have done that with BA connecting to BA and other airlines like Delta etc and in reverse