I’m skipping ahead from the rest of my Canada trip report, as I wanted to get this review up timely. Recently, I flew the brand new British Airways A350 Club Suite, their new Business Class product. I’ve had some extra time to reflect since my preview post, and my general conclusions remain the same. There’s no question the Club Suite represents a huge improvement to the Club World product. But does it warrant the seemingly nonstop hype machine? I still don’t think so.
I booked this ticket using an “off-peak” Avios award. From Toronto, this cost me 50,000 Avios plus $418.93 in taxes and fees. However, thanks to a 40% Amex transfer bonus, I used just 36,000 Membership Rewards points. I considered that a very good deal, even with BA’s obnoxious surcharges.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my quick trip to Manchester in February, 2020. Click here for the trip report index and introductory post.
British Airways (BA) Flight 92
- Saturday, February 8, 2020
- Depart: Toronto – Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ), Terminal 3, 18:18, 2m early
- Arrive: London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Terminal 5, 05:15 (+1), 1 hr 10 min early
- Duration: 5 hours 57 minutes
- Seat: 8A
- Equipment: Airbus A350-1000
Check-In and Boarding
I arrived at the airport a little before 3 for my 6:20 flight, thinking I might need time to deal with the London to Manchester cancellation. The helpful agent addressed the issue in just a few minutes, though; that left me plenty of time to relax before the flight. After a couple of hours in the Plaza Premium Lounge, I headed to the gate about 10 minutes before boarding. British Airways now uses a zone boarding system, with Club World in Zone 2. As usual with BA, though, boarding was a disorganized scrum. Lines backed up well onto the concourse, with no real directions on where to stand. Eventually, I figured out the correct line, and made my way onboard to the Club World cabin.
British Airways A350 Club Suite – Seating and Interior
I’ll start with the obvious. The new product on the A350-1000 is a MASSIVE improvement over existing Club World. Gone is the cramped, outdated 2-4-2 configuration that rated as world class 20 years ago. In its place – an airy, elegant Business cabin with 56 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seats provide 79″ of pitch, and SeatGuru claims 27″ of width. However, I think that’s inaccurate; 21″ seems closer to reality. In other words, more than enough, but not other-worldly. Unlike some products, British Airways kept overhead bins in the center section, but it doesn’t take away from the spacious feel of the cabin.
Note that the main Club World cabin consists of 44 seats over 11 rows. Behind the galley, and in front of the World Traveler Plus cabin, are 12 more seats over 3 rows.
Along with obnoxious award fees, BA also runs up the obnoxious meter with seat assignment fees, even in Club World. With a night flight, I refused to pay the $100+ for an assignment, and decided to take my chances. Several empty seats remained when online check-in opened, so I still managed to grab my preferred window. Window seats have the advantage of an enormous storage shelf on the window side.
The seat contains three other storage areas. The window-side shelf contains two bins; the second also contains the IFE controller. In addition, there’s a compartment below the light at the side of the seat. Apparently I forgot to take a photo of the inside of the compartment, but it includes a mirror, and is large enough to store a water bottle, book, etc.
I snuck a peak at an empty center seat, and though the shelf appears a little smaller, storage still appears more than adequate.
Bottom line – it’s a massive improvement over the old Club World seat when it comes to storage.
As for the seat itself, I like the grey cloth design. It’s classy without being annoyingly minimalist. It also keeps its cool better than typical leather-covered seats.
Waiting at each seat was a large, comfy pillow and BA’s new The White Company bedding.
British Airways provisions The White Company amenity kits as well. I do like the simple, black leather case.
Note that the bedding and amenity kit aren’t specific to the new A350-1000. You can find these in any Club World cabin.
Seat controls are simple, with a touch screen on the left side controlling all movements. You can choose from three pre-set positions. Or, touch the screen to reveal the full set of movements. Helpfully, the control panel shows a green “checkmark” in the corner when the seat is in full upright position.
The tray table does take a bit of getting used to. To release the table, push the “Table Release” bar and then pull the tray forward.
If you push the tray forward, though – for example, to get out of your seat – it’s tricky to get it back in place. There is a latch underneath the table; you have to pull the latch towards you while also pushing down on the release. It’s not the easiest thing to figure out or remember after…ahem…a few cocktails.
Meanwhile, as with many reverse herringbone designs, the footwell does narrow at the far end. However, it’s not as bad as in other seats. I didn’t feel a noticeable constriction with the seat upright. Storage space in the footwell remained adequate as well.
By comparison, here’s the footwell of the Delta One A350-900 suite, which felt noticeably tighter.
Even in bed mode, the seat still felt reasonably spacious. I’m a side sleeper, and noticed no issues with my feet crunching up in the footwell.
Speaking of bed mode, the bed lies fully flat, and measures 79″ in length. The high-quality The White Company bedding makes for an inviting sleeping space.
Thanks to the generous padding and good bedding, I slept blissfully for a bit less than 3 hours. I would have gladly slept longer, but near-record speeds thanks to Storm Ciara meant a dreadfully short flight time.
Oh yeah, I forgot the most hyped part of the new seat – the door. Like the Delta One suite, the new Club Suite includes a fully closing, sliding door. And like the Delta One suite, I’m not sure I completely get the obsession. Sure, when fully closed, the door provides the feeling of an enclosed space. There’s value in that, and I suppose a door adds a certain “prestige” factor.
But…it’s just not that private. From the outside, you can still see completely inside the suite area. That’s because the suite’s walls aren’t very high.
Compare this to an enclosed First Class suite, like Korean Air’s Kosmo 2.0 Suite. High walls provide a truly enclosed space that feels almost like a mini hotel room.
No, I don’t expect a denser Business Class configuration to provide First Class-style enclosures. But at the same time, I’m just not sure what real value a door adds, even if privacy is your most important criteria. The seat is plenty good even without the door. It just seems like a gimmick to convince you to pay a premium for the product.
My other criticism of the cabin: like most reverse herringbone products, there just isn’t a good option for couples traveling together. Even in the center seats, you have to lean forward uncomfortably to talk to your neighbor. That wasn’t an issue as a solo traveler on this trip. But what if I want to socialize with a companion? I much prefer designs like United’s Polaris cabin, which provides options for both privacy and socializing.
Finally, like other A350s, the interior is quiet at cruise. Supposedly, British Airways added extra sound deadening material to the seats to further reduce noise and improve sleep quality. I didn’t notice a difference with a standard A350, but then again, I sleep through pretty much anything. The lower cabin altitude did leave me feeling more refreshed, despite less than 3 hours of sleep. And I managed to avoid jet lag entirely, sleeping soundly through the night on Sunday.
Overall, the new Club World cabin really is a huge improvement over the old one, despite a few criticisms.
British Airways A350 Club Suite – In-Flight Entertainment
The highlight of the IFE experience in the A350 is the 4k resolution TV screen. The screen provides exceptional resolution, whether watching the flight map or a TV show/movie.
As mentioned earlier, the IFE controller is in one of the side storage bins. It’s generally easy to use, and you can watch different programs simultaneously on the controller and screen. Very helpful if you’re a flight map geek like me, and want to keep an eye on it while watching something else.
I did notice one small issue, though, when keeping the map active while playing games. When using the game controller functions, it’s easy to accidentally change settings on or close the map.
The new system offers an excellent selection of movies and TV shows, with a good variety of American, European, Asian, and kids’ options. There’s also a fair selection of games, with the option to play in multiplayer mode with other passengers.
British Airways provides these unbranded headphones in Club World, which are alright.
Your electronic devices won’t lack for power in the Club Suite. Flanking the IFE controller are two USB ports and one standard 110v outlet. I like the position of the ports, as it allows you to keep your devices on the storage shelf out of the way while charging. A pet peeve of mine is ports that leave your power packs at floor level, tangling up in your feet.
You can purchase WiFi on the A350-1000, but as mentioned in my intro post, prepare for extortion pricing. £20 for 150MB – enough for maybe 20 minutes of a movie – is downright insulting.
Food & Beverage
British Airways recently rolled out improvements to Club World catering, which I was excited to check out. Service began with an offer of a pre-departure beverage of water, orange juice, or champagne. Naturally, I selected the champagne for the obligatory champagne selfie.
BA offered Canard-Duchene Cuvée Léonie Brut on this flight. It’s a moderately priced (~$30/bottle) champagne that rates as an average offering among wine critics.
Also during boarding, the FAs handed out menus for the flight.
The FAs also handed out breakfast cards. BA offers a choice of a full breakfast, beverage service, or nothing at all.
A few minutes later, the FAs came back through to take dinner orders, as well as an after-takeoff beverage. I thought that might result in a more efficient meal service, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. We took off at 6:35 pm, and it took more than 45 minutes to receive my beverage. At least my choice, a Singleton 12, as a nice aperitif. It’s a bit sweet and spicy, with a nice smooth finish typical of Speyside malts. Perhaps it’s better as a nightcap with dessert, but it accompanies BA’s sweet nut mix fairly well.
One thing I will highlight is the new glassware, which I thought looked classy.
The starter arrived about half an hour after drinks; I ordered the roasted parsnip soup. It was quite good, with the curry oil adding a nice hint of heat. The consistency was hearty and creamy, though the temperature was closer to lukewarm than hot. (The FA and I shared a good laugh at the smiley face that appeared in the curry oil.) Accompanying the soup were a small side salad and bread. I found the bread fresh, but didn’t care for the butter, which I think contained pesto (not my fave).
Shortly thereafter, I received the main course, the braised short rib of beef. Yes, I know better than to order beef on airplanes. But I don’t eat fish, and I wasn’t in the mood for noodles. So, it was beef or bust.
The presentation wasn’t great, with the mashed potatoes (oddly not in the description) taking over the plate. But in the taste department, it was a pretty good pot roast, with the tender, flavorful veggies the star. I even found the beef decently cooked to medium, unlike the hammered cuts I too often find on planes. Unfortunately, it was a poor quality cut of meat, with the dreaded freezer burn the dominant flavor. I asked for the petite syrah zinfandel to accompany the meal. It’s a mass market wine ($9 a bottle) but has a pretty robust pepper flavor that goes well with red meat.
At this point, I kind of wanted the cheese plate – but we were better than 2 hours into the flight already. With less than 4 hours to go, I decided to get what little sleep I could.
Overall, I found the meal service a mixed bag. Some aspects, like the soup and beverages, were pretty good. The main course had promise, but suffered from a poor cut of meat. Perhaps Do & Co might provide a higher quality of catering out of London. But the big problem was the glacial pace of service. Two hours for meal service on a short eastbound redeye is really too long to begin with. The extra short flight time on this flight made it worse.
Club World Service
I encountered one of BA’s “mixed fleet” crews on this flight. The flight attendant serving my section of Club World was charming and friendly, if not especially polished. For example, she didn’t address passengers by name, or offer a goodbye as we left. Ultimately, though, the biggest issue was lack of efficiency, as noted above. BA really needs to sort that out; I’ve read other reviews suggesting that two hours for meal service is the norm on eastbound flights. Granted it’s a big cabin, but also a significant problem given the large number of East Coast routes BA runs.
British Airways A350 Club Suite – Final Thoughts
In the end, I have mixed feelings on the Club Suite. It’s a gorgeous cabin, the A350 is a comfortable aircraft, and it’s undoubtedly a HUGE improvement over old Club World. British Airways also invested in an upgraded soft product, especially the bedding. But I found outstation meal service not great, and service friendly but inefficient. I also don’t really get the hype over the door, but I’ll chalk that up to personal preference. (My general preference against reverse herringbone seats admittedly colors my view.)
In short, I regard the new Club World as a good product, but it needs more than a seat with a door to elevate it to “great” status.