Flight Review: British Airways Business Class A380 (Club World)
Our flight to California each Summer is one of the ones I look forward to the most all year. Why? Because it is a good 12 hours – I don’t know about you, but I love long flights as they provide me with the opportunity of not doing much, for a change. No interruptions, no internet, no emails – all I need to do is lie back, catch up on movies, sip a couple of glasses of champagne and even do some thinking, if I really have to.
This time, I was particularly excited to fly as we had booked our Club World seats months in advance with our Avios on one of the airline’s darling planes: the A380. A few years ago, we tried it on the way back but in premium economy (not bad… but not the same, of course). As I have said many many times before, I am a very proud British Airways Gold Cardholder (Oneworld Emerald) – a card that doesn’t earn itself without a very fair share of paid flights. But one of the perks of flying so much, is that you get your reward: free flights and upgrades. Many people have thousands of Avios and always assume they cannot spend them. Well, with careful planning, you can find reward seats (and spend those babies in other things too), which give you access to experiences like these.
Here is how my August 2015 flight from London Heathrow (LHR) T5 to Los Angeles (LAX) T8 went. The flight was scheduled to depart at 9.45am and land at 12.25pm local time.
As a BA Gold Executive Club cardholder, one of my perks, despite which class I fly, is that I am able to check in using the ‘First’ area, which is separate from the business class check-in desks. At LHR T5, this means the area at the very end of the terminal (last door when you get to the departures concourse). The business class area actually had a queue, but the first class area only had 2 people before us.
Check-in was quick and efficient – we had 8 suitcases between 3 passengers (so were no way near our generous allowance which would be 3 bags per passenger and an extra one for being a gold member), which were tagged and sent on our way. The agent was very nice – he also double checked our ESTAs for the USA, which were in order, of course. We were also given our US Customs form.
All business class passengers get to fast track security, which we did. We used the South Terminal checkpoint, which is the closest one to the First/Business Class check-in areas, and we had 3 people ahead of us, which was a nice bonus. The terminal was heaving and was quite busy, but I like the new system they have at T5 where 3-4 people can use the belts at one time, making it much quicker. No problems here. Please note that in the UK, there is still a liquid restriction, laptops etc still have to come out, but if you are not wearing heels, you can keep your shoes on, which I find very civilised).
Before we got to the lounge – we could use either Galleries lounge for business class passengers (North or South or at the B Gates), or in our case, the First lounge – we indulged in some shopping before we made our way there.
At the lounge, the first thing we did was to order breakfast – there is a buffet, but you can also get some made-to-order items, like the egg and bacon sandwich, which I am a very big fan of.
Whilst we waited for our order, we used the Foreign Exchange desk to get some dollars (which is located in the lounge and means you don’t have to queue), and we tried to get an Elemis spa treatment. On this occasion, we weren’t successful – and as we were leaving from C gates, we didn’t even have the option of having a treatment at the B-gates lounge. Business class passengers cannot pre-book treatments, and I find it almost impossible to get a treatment at LHR as there always seems to be more rooms than therapists.
I also tried to stock up on magazines – newspapers are never a problem – but despite there being hundreds of different titles, mostly were ‘lounge’ and rather obscure magazines. No Hello, Tatler or Vanity Fair this time – despite it being 7am. To avoid going to WHSmith (and the whole boarding pass debacle), I had packed a few kilos of magazines and books in my luggage and just hoped there would be magazines on the plane.
Breakfast was excellent and we couldn’t resist a glass of 2006 Milesime Taittinger, which I adore and is the champagne currently being served at the lounge. I noticed there was also a gin bar/display (first time!!), but as it was so early in the morning, I did not try.
I quite like this lounge, but find it is getting busier and busier. Food is good, service has improved lately but I still find the bathroom facilities need an update. With this being BA’s First Lounge at its home airport, there is no excuse. (Please note that First passengers can use the Concorde Room).
We made our way to C-gates (T5 operates from a main terminal – A gates, but has 2 satellite terminals (B & C) which are accessible via a quick train). It took us 10 minutes to get there and a short walk to the gate. I used BA’s app which sends me push notifications and told us when to start making our way to the gate and when we got there, our flight was boarding.
To board the plane, we used the fast track lane (which can be used by bronze, silver and gold cardholders as well as business and first class passengers). There was a bit of a queue, but not a problem. As we were going to the USA, there are extra security checks in place with security guards checking your passport whilst the check-in agent checks your name.
For the A380, there are different boarding procedures as the plane has 2 floors – instead of being organised by class, it was organised by seat number, so we followed the signs to ’50 and higher’ and made our way to the plane.
We ‘arrived’ directly on the top floor.
We showed our boarding passes so the crew could direct us to our seats, which were right at the front of the cabin. We were addressed by name once the lady spotted the surname and the big fat gold screen (it is a lovely touch and I love it, I must confess) and escorted to our cabin. We had seats 50 A/B on this trip, which I had chosen on purpose (thinking about older cabin configurations, but not this one in particular. More on that later!).
Whilst we boarded, we were offered a choice of drinks – champagne (Taittinger Brut Reserve being the option), orange juice or water. You can guess what I chose.
Newspapers were also offered, which I declined as I had gotten one from the lounge and I saw the magazines on the racks, which were ‘OK’ compared to other flights, but there was some decent reading material, if required.
We were given a navy Elemis bag with products – and it was single sex only. On previous flights there was a female and male version, but not on this one. The bag (which is similar to a shoe bag, and I suppose can be re-used for that purpose or as a small laundry bag), contained a pen (unbranded, which was strange), ear plugs (my favourites in the whole world, yellow ones by 3M), toothpaste and a toothbrush, a navy eye-mask and socks, and a series of Elemis products which included a cleansing wipe, a lipstick, hand lotion and face moisturiser.
You are also given a pillow and a beige/blue duvet which I liked.
– Drinks service
Not too long after take-off (we were delayed by 30 minutes), we were given our menus detailing all the service options during the flight in terms of food and drink. There are some champagne cocktails available (Kir Royal or Bucks Fizz – or Mimosas for my American readers), champagne (Taittinger Brut Reserve, Castelnau Non-Vintage Rose and Castelnau 2004 Vintage), and a variety of spirits like whisky, vodka and gin. Whilst I don’t pay attention to the first two, I was disappointed to still see Gordons as the gin served in business class – being the same one offered in economy and premium economy. I honestly believe it makes no sense and BA could change it. Schweppes is still the tonic being offered BUT, listen to this, on my return flight from NYC to London, I was given a can of Fever Tree slimline tonic, so there is hope). A little upgrade on the gin and the tonic would be very welcome – to bring it on par with the champagne (namely when Taittinger) and wine choices, which I know the airline chooses and reviews carefully.
I choose a Kir Royal and asked the crew if I could get the pretzels (which are available in Premium Economy and Economy, I believe) instead of the nuts. Within minutes, I had not 1, but 4 packs of pretzels which I thoroughly enjoyed. I shared 1 with Mr. O.
In terms of wines, there were 2 reds and 2 whites. There was a French Chablis (Domaine Sante Claire 2014 from Burgundy) and an Italian Roero Arneis (Villata 2014 from Piemonte). I am a huge fan of Arneis and tried it with our meal. This proved to be a surprising choice – as most people were going for the better known Chablis, and gave way to a great conversation with the crew, which I always enjoy. In terms of reds, the options were Chateau Landat 2010 from Haut-Medoc (Bordeaux, France) and a Spanish Rioja (San Felices Reserva 2009). I tried the Bordeaux which was very good.
– In-flight dining
A weird thing on early day long-haul flights is that you are served lunch at around 11.30am. We had a hearty breakfast at the lounge, and I have to say, the champagne helped me get in the mood to eat.
There were two starter choices – a ‘Severn and Wye cured Scottish smoked salmon with caper berries, horseradish cream cheese and pea shoots’ and ‘watermelon infused with basil, feta, red onion and mint salad’. I chose the latter and it was delicious. I paired it with the white wine.
For the main course, there were 4 options – ‘seared filled of British beef with sweet potato royale and bearnaise sauce’, ‘roasted corn-fed chicken with Madeira sauce, soft herb mashed potatoes and baby vegetables’, ‘teriyaki stir-fried vegetables with egg noodles and cashew nuts’ and ‘main course salad of wild rice, quinoa and a bitter orange dressing accompanies by warm seared tiger prawns’.
I choose the beef and paired it (eventually – not seen on this photo), with the red wine.
For dessert, there were 3 alternatives: a ‘mango and raspberry cream torte with raspberry compote’, ‘Somerset Camembert and Barber’s cheese served with fig relish and biscuits’ and a selection of fruits. Coffee and tea and Hotel Chocolat chocolates were also offered. I skipped dessert and had the chocolates whilst finishing my red wine. I asked the crew if there were any other chocolates left and was rewarded with 3 more packs – they were delicious.
During the rest of the flight, Club World passengers have access to the ‘Club Kitchen’, which is a self-service area in the galley where you can help yourself to any drinks, snacks, chocolates, ice cream, fruit and a variety of sandwiches. We made a journey or two during the 12-hour flight to stretch our legs and have a chat.
A little over one hour before landing, we were served a 3-course ‘light meal’. The starters available were ‘tiger prawns in a Marie Rose sauce with cucumber and red pepper salad’ and a ‘meze plate featuring aubergine, pepper and tomato salad, labneh with mint, harissa and chilli humus’. The main courses were ‘roasted breast of corn-fed chicken with herb cream sauce, Mediterranean vegetables and boulangere potatoes’, ‘rigatoni pasta in a chestnut mushroom and pesto sauce with baby spinach and sun-dried tomatoes’, ‘main course Far East salad and sweet chilli dressing accompanied by warm seared Shetland salmon’ and ‘ warm sandwich of paprika-marinated breast of corn-fed chicken with tomato and watercress’.
I must say I was looking forward to afternoon tea, which would have been perfect – and I love BA’s version of it. I chose the tiger prawns and the warm sandwich which were OK – not brilliant, to be perfectly honest. I didn’t finish the latter one. I had a Sprite and a cup of tea.
– In-flight entertainment
The A380 features a 12′ touch-screen and lots of choices. I am quite partial to BA’s choice of movies – namely as I cannot remember the last time I went to the cinema, and I had no problem working it or choosing something suitable to watch.
We were given headphones which I think are due an upgrade – we used our Bose instead.
In terms of technology, there are 2 USB ports on each seat, as well as a power socket, which is compatible with UK, EU and US plugs. I used the USB to charge my phone and worked well.
I bought some gin (Tanqueray Ten at £25 for 1 litre and Bombay Sapphire East at £17 for 1 litre), which are better deals than at the airport. I also bought some Egyptian Magic as the version you can buy elsewhere is bigger than 100ml, which makes it difficult to travel with.
– The seat & the cabin
There are 2 business class (Club World) cabins onboard the A380 – one upstairs, where we sat, and one downstairs. I did not see the one downstairs. Upstairs, it offers a 2-3-2 configuration, which is different from other BA planes, and means that if you are in the rear-facing middle seat, you don’t get so up close and personal with your neighbour. There are privacy screens (which are much-needed) and you still may need to jump over someone else to get aisle access.
I always choose the first two seats in the cabin, and pick the aisle seat, and on this journey (having done no research), I picked 50 A-B which were the first two on the left hand-side of the cabin. I didn’t realise they were right by the loos and the stairs connecting to downstairs. I was a bit worried with extra traffic and noise, but must confess everyone was quite quiet and I wasn’t disturbed. There is a curtain right the seats which is closed during the flight so you don’t actually see people queuing to use the facilities.
The bathrooms were *huge* – and were spotless throughout the whole flight.
With regards to the cabin, it looked very smart – and you knew you were on a BA flight without a doubt. Interestingly, the seats were not navy as usual – but more of a barley grey / brownish colour.
The seat was similar to the other Club World services I have experienced in the past – it lies flat to 180 degrees and you can control it from the side buttons which allow you to just seat at any angle you would like. There is a stool at the end of your seat which connects to the seat itself and gives you some more extra room. As I am short, if I want to use the foot stool, I need to recline my seat a little bit so the gap narrows.
There is also a drawer where you can keep personal belongings, dedicated seat storage space and on this plane, additional ‘side’ storage which we used.
– The crew
Were excellent and very personable. One of the reasons I fly BA over and over again is because I love how they are ‘allowed’ to be themselves and talk to passengers, show a bit of personality and that can make or break the flight. The purser came round to us during the flight to introduce himself – this is becoming standard on BA flights, now that they have iPads and can identify Gold and Silver members and it is a nice touch. We were also addressed by name during the flight, which again makes a difference.
We had possibly one of the worst arrival experiences into LAX, where we queued for 1h15 minutes to get through immigration. There was no business class fast-track option offered (to anyone), and we were unlucky as we merged with 2 other flights landing at the same time. On the plus side, the luggage was ready for us when we finally got to it.
I really enjoyed our flight (as expected), and managed to sleep for 6 hours, quite comfortably. The A380 is so much quieter than other planes – and that adds to the experience too. The crew was excellent, which makes for a much better flight and I shall indeed try to book myself on other A380 services.
Until the next flight…
PS. You can also read other flight reviews – BA Club World (Business Class) between LHR and JFK, World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) on the new A380, and for the BA001 all business class service from London City to JFK. See also other airlines including Qatar Airways (Dreamliner), Jet Airways (Premiere) and JetBlue (Mint).
Disclaimer: I had booked my flight with Avios 6 months before this trip, but in the meantime, BA’s Avios Team got in touch with me and hired me to share my Avios experience live on my social media channels, as an ambassador for the #DoMorewithAvios campaign. My ticket for this journey, which cost 50,000 Avios and £250 tax was refunded. I was not required to do a flight review. Opinions are, as always, my own.