British Airways operates 28 weekly flights to South Africa, with two daily frequencies to Cape Town and two to Johannesburg. During peak seasons, such as Christmas and New Years, sometimes the Cape Town flight can take on 3 daily frequencies. Side note: when I was departing Cape Town on January 2, I saw THREE 747-400s parked at the remote stand.
Anyways, to Johannesburg, British Airways operates 1x A380-800 and 1x 747-400. The A380 flight and the 747 flight are both overnight red-eye routes, and the A380 (BA 55) is configured to 469 passengers (14 First, 97 Club World, 55 World Traveller Plus and 303 World Traveller). The 747 flight (BA 57) is a much lower-density configured plane that carries only 275 passengers (14 First, 86 Club World, 30 World Traveller Plus and 145 World Traveller).
I had a long layover in London en-route to JNB (and Cape Town) so I left the airport when I was picked up by a friend. We headed into the English countryside and went to a pub at the Withies Hotel in Compton. It was a beautiful day in Southern England, albeit a little chilly.
Around 4pm, I returned back to Terminal 5 at Heathrow. This was my first time inhabiting the space, so I explored a bit before clearing security and heading to the Galleries lounge.
There are two Galleries lounges in the Terminal, including South and North. South features a Spa, is larger and slightly more crowded. North allows one to check their carry-on luggage with the concierge and there is also an open-aired quiet space with seating. Both offer showers.
The lounges are okay, nothing out of the ordinary. They can be crowded even at off-peak times and are not very quiet, but if there is a more quiet location, it is Galleries North. It is smaller and offers some more areas for privacy. I found the open atrium area to be quite relaxing. South has some nice Av-Geeky things on display.
The boarding gate was not announced until an hour prior to departure, so when it was close to 19:45 I headed towards the B terminal.
Around 20:00, per boarding commenced, before First, Business and OneWorld elite members were called.
We were greeted on a relatively immaculate 747. Even though people complain that the BA 747s are tired and showing their age, for me, it was still a treat. Who knows how many more rides I will get on the Queen of the Skies?
This was a fairly Premium-heavy 747, with First, Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller. The crew, with was virtually all-female, greeted everyone with a smile. They were a very warm and hospitable bunch, and I noticed this throughout the journey.
The Club World Seat and Hard Products – Upper Deck
The Upper Deck of the 747 has smaller bins, but it does have side stowage compartments, which I really appreciated. Even though I struggled to cram my roller-board into the lockers, I was able to place my backpack and smaller items into the side bins, which was really convenient.
The seat itself is lie-flat, and has a shoe-stowage compartment that was useful. Upon boarding, our seats had headphones, menus, blanket and pillows already placed.
People complain that the Club World seat on the 747 is a bit awkward due to the proximity of the seat mate. Indeed, there is a privacy divider that can go up in the middle, but that is usually not done until the plane is in the air.
That said, I selected 62K, which is an emergency exit seat, and was sitting rear-facing. This was a first for me, and while it felt a bit strange at first, it didn’t cause any motions sickness or anything.
Additionally, the seat has a USB port and an electrical outlet. Sadly, both of these were semi-functional during the flight. Please view the gallery below to get some more detailed views into the seat:
While on the ground, I explored the entertainment console. The entire suite was incredible, with a huge variety of TV shows, movies, audio channels, podcasts, books and an air show. I really appreciated the fact that there were no advertisements prior to watching any of the programs I selected, because I find that annoying if you’re seated in the Upper class on an airline.
There is no WiFi available on the flight, but I did not need it, personally. I appreciated that there were city guides (audio format) available which provided some really helpful information on various destinations. BA also provides some #AvGeek-friendly short programming on its rich history, such as the Concorde or the TriStars, as well as some info for those with a fear of flying.
The AirShow is incredible, with HD graphics and robust features. I kept this on while listening to a playlist compiled of jukebox mixes and songs that I had preselected. This is my modus operandi on flights that I can sleep on 🙂
The one thing that I did not like were the headphones. Coming from American, which offers the Bose headphones, I was not impressed by the quality, nor the comfort. They actually started to hurt ones ears after a long duration of wearing them.
The cabin crew on this flight was absolutely delightful. Even though I had been impressed by the crew on the previous American Airlines flight, there was a marked difference in terms of the vigor and energy of this crew. Pre-departure and welcome drinks were given right away, rather than after a 10-15 minute wait which is typical of the U.S. carriers. I enjoyed a mimosa while everyone was getting settled in.
Amenity kits were then handed out. It was relatively standard, with a few extras thrown in such as moisturizers.
Menu orders were taken. I had preselected the beef option, but because I was feeling really tired, I thought that it would be best for me just to have a starter, salad and dessert to hold me over before going to sleep. The FAs said this was fine. Menu options below in slide show.
Unfortunately, roughly around the time of our scheduled departure, the power completely cut out on the flight. The Captain came on board and announced that there was some issues with the APU, so we had a technician that had come on board to resolve it.
Around 20 mins later, the issue was still being resolved, but the Captain announced that there was also a passenger discrepancy that would require some manual workarounds from the grounds staff, which would lead to an additional 45 minute delay. Furthermore, since the temperature was dropping outside at Heathrow, and visibility was becoming very limited, we would need to de-ice the engines.
All-in-all, the combined events lead to about a 2 hour delay. I was dozing off intermittently, but then realized that it may be prudent to have dinner after all given the delay. I requested to change my order to the pasta, which was very nice of the FA’s to accommodate.
Finally, around 10:45 PM, we were ready to push back. I was relieved that everything was resolved mechanically and operationally. Taxi was very quick at this late hour and take-off was smooth.
Roughly 30 minutes into the flight, I awoke for dinner service. Today’s dining options included a selection of starters, salad, a choice among four mains and desserts.
The starter was served with a fresh seasonal greens salad. I had selected the Scottish smoked salmon with pickled cucumber, radish and dill cream cheese. It was sumptuous. I had wanted to try the wild mushroom starter, but it was a popular item and went too quickly. The salad was nothing extraordinary.
The pasta dish was served with a creamy plum tomato and pesto sauce, along with yellow-peppers, spinach and cherry tomatoes. It wasn’t the best pasta dish I’ve ever had, but it was what I was feeling at the time. Having eaten a lot of red meat and beef recently, I thought it would be a good idea to take it easy on the proteins tonight.
Finally, for dessert, I had the salted caramel slice with burnt honeycomb cream. All I can say is wow. It was decadently rich, and for anyone with a sweet tooth, this would have been a hit. I was glad I ordered it.
After dinner, I had some green tea to digest, then brushed my teeth before making my music selections to hit the snooze button.
Overall, I was impressed with my ability to sleep. I woke up around 3-4 times at various intervals, but usually just to use the loo or have a drink of water. I probably managed a solid 6 hours of sleep, which I think is more than adequate for a flight of that duration. Since this was my first time flying to Africa, I took photos of the routing we took. Check it below!
I woke up with about 1 hour prior to landing in JNB, and noticed that some passengers were already eating breakfast. At this point, I decided to put my seat upright and order.
I wish I had taken a second glance at the menu, knowing that there was an option to order a smoothie or a yogurt – granola dish, but because it was getting close to arrival time, by the time the FA came to us, it sounded like there was just fruit available. Anyways, I had this, along with the English breakfast.
The eggs and the bacon were quite good and hit the spot, as well as the hash browns and tomato. The sausage I did not care for. The fruit was also just O-K, not particularly fresh.
Overall, just a slightly above-average breakfast.
Preparations for arrival into Jo-burg came before we knew it, and so I quickly freshened up and brushed my teeth. Unfortunately, because of the delay, it was unlikely that I would have sufficient time to use any lounges or shower upon arrival into JNB given that my connecting flight to Cape Town was a little over an hour later.
Touchdown and taxi was smooth and quick. I thanked the crew for their wonderful hospitality and then we all exited the aircraft. I felt like I deplaned with the World Traveller Cabin for some reason since I was towards the end of the line once I reached immigration. Maybe it had something to do with being on the upper level?
Thankfully, the lines for security were quick and hassle-free, and my departure gate for Cape Town on British Airways Comair (its Southern Africa subsidiary) was adjacent.
At any rate, immigration was around 30 minutes. Strangely, no pre-arrival forms had been distributed. Luckily, after immigration, the walk to Terminal B (where domestic flights leave) wasn’t long, but the signage was confusing and gate information wasn’t displayed very clearly on FIDS screens. I also had several random men who approached me asking where I was going and offered to help me with my connection, but I was weary of this and navigated my own way there.
The product on Club World is very thorough. I think that for the price I paid, I got really good value out of it. I think that there are some refinements that could be maid, possibly to some of the meal items and perhaps the amenity kit and definitely the headphones, but overall, I was very satisfied with the hard products.
The Cabin crew was phenomenal. As I mentioned above, they were helpful, courteous, friendly and hospitable. When I went downstairs on one occasion to use the loo, one of the ones serving the lower deck cabins said, “having a good sleep?” It is small things like that which make you feel welcomed and appreciated. I can’t say U.S. carriers are as affable, but it is what it is.
I would happily recommend BA to OneWorld frequent fliers and other people who are looking for a safe, reliable and quality product.