Last weekend, I had the privilege of flying the brand new British Airways A350 “Club Suite”. Historically, BA’s Club World ranked as an also-ran of premium cabin products. Let’s face it, 8-across seating in Business Class hardly rates as cutting edge in 2020. Last year, though, BA introduced a new, reverse herringbone Club World seat, which debuted on the Airbus A350. Taking it a step further, they added a door, thus dubbing it the “Club Suite”. My friend Matthew goes so far as to describe the new cabin as a game changer. Would my experience match up?
A Seat That’s Light Years Ahead of Typical Club World
BA Club World seats long held a reputation as cramped, and about 15 years past their prime. You definitely won’t feel that way on the A350-1000. The Club World cabin itself is huge, with 44 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration in the main section. Cabin finishes look understated, yet elegant. And of course, the mood lighting on the A350 adds to the classy look. There’s also a mini-cabin behind the galley with an additional 12 seats, for a total of 56 suites. That’s quite a premium-heavy configuration for this aircraft.
The seats themselves are standard reverse herringbones, and feature excellent padding. I found them comfortable for lounging and relaxing, even in the full upright position.
Like other reverse herringbones, the seats do feature a tapered footwell. However, foot space seemed less constrained than in other designs.
Meanwhile, the window seats feature an excellent amount of storage space. In addition to the oversized shelf by the window, there are two deep storage compartments available for use. The one to the left is actually big enough to store the bedding.
I found the seats equally comfortable in bed mode, with BA’s new White Company bedding encouraging a nice sleep.
Even when sleeping on my side, my feet didn’t feel constrained in the footwell, unlike, for example, the Delta One A350 Suite. Unfortunately, my already short flight from Toronto became even shorter thanks to 240 mph tailwinds from Storm Ciara. That left me less than 3 hours to actually enjoy my sleep.
My main complaint here is the same I have with all reverse herringbone designs. There simply isn’t a good choice if you want to chat with your seatmate. Even in the center section, you’re just too far away from each other; it necessitates leaning to your side awkwardly to talk. The flip side is that the seats feature a good amount of privacy.
The Door Still Feel Like – A Gimmick
Much of the ooohs and aahs in the blogosphere center around the seat including a door. This is the second Business Class seat with a door I’ve sampled, after the Delta One suite. And I have to confess – I still don’t get the fuss. Yeah, I guess there’s a certain “pizazz” factor about a closing door. But I just don’t see what value they add in this configuration. Even when closed, anyone walking in the aisle can still see right into your seat area.
At least the door operates much more simply than Delta’s. And even with the door closed, the space doesn’t feel claustrophobic. All that said, I’m growing increasingly convinced that doors don’t add much outside of First Class. In configurations like Korean Air’s Kosmo 2.0 Suite on the 747-8, high walls with the door create a real feeling of exclusivity.
Vastly Better IFE, But Obscene WiFi Pricing
Though it’s been nearly 5 years, I painfully remember my last encounter with BA’s seatback screen. Poor resolution and responsiveness left a really cheap feeling – and that was in First Class. The new seatback screens finally bring BA up to snuff with the competition. In fact, the oversized screens rank among the best in Business Class.
On the other hand, BA should be ashamed by its WiFi offering. Not because of poor quality, but because of the pricing. Unfortunately, BA decided to charge based on data usage; their “best” plan offers 150 MB of data for £19.99. Yes, that’s right – 20 quid for data that likely won’t even get you 20 minutes through a HD movie. That’s just obscene.
New Catering – A Mixed Bag
British Airways famously rolled out Do&Co catering a little over a year ago; however, outstation catering still seems a bit uneven. BA’s definitely improved the appearance of the meal service, with better dishes and glassware. The glassware looked especially nice, if you ask me.
On the other hand, meal quality is still uneven. I enjoyed a tasty appetizer, they actually cooked the beef in the stew relatively nicely, and I was impressed with the wine selection. Unfortunately, it was also a poor cut of meat. YMMV if you originate in London.
Friendly Service, But Not Terribly Efficient
British Airways assigned a “mixed fleet” crew to this flight. While often hit or miss, this particular crew provided warm, friendly service throughout. No, they didn’t address passengers by name. But the Club World crew did greet everyone with a smile, and at least tried to engage in friendly conversation. The problem, though? Meal service was incredibly slooooooow. It finally, mercifully concluded almost exactly 2 hours after take-off. That’s far too slow on a flight blocked at 7 hours 5 minutes gate-to-gate. But this flight ended up over an hour shorter than normal due to those strong tailwinds. That left just 3 hours 45 minutes to landing, causing me to skip breakfast to get what little sleep I could.
Overall, I certainly don’t dispute that the Club Suites represent a major upgrade over traditional Club World. But is it so incredible as to justify the constant gushing I find in the blogosphere? My first reaction says not really. While it does elevate Club World to a good product, this didn’t feel much like a “game changer” to me.