Its been some time since I last saw a BA Club World seat, however in the meantime I have been lucky enough to see what the competition has been producing and, in the process, leaving the British flag carrier well behind in the lucrative premium cabin stakes.
Alex Cruz the Chairman and CEO has said of the customer needs for such a product: ”We do know that our customers are looking for privacy, storage space, certain types of food, we must be there to respond to a demand for luxury services so we are very much committed to do it “
In late September on one of the early flights to Dubai I got the opportunity to see just what the airline has done to meet these needs.
Walking to gate there is a little irony in that in a nod to the past, while I walk to the future I pass by the BOAC retro 747 parked next door but one to my shiny new A350-1000 G-XWBB just 11 days since its delivery. It does rather remind me how old I am as this is the only one of the retro 747s that I didn’t photograph first time around!!
Caroline Martinoli, British Airways’ Director of Brand and Customer Experience added to Alex Cruz statement:“Luxury might have different interpretations depending on the culture so luxury for us is what luxury is for our customers so our position is always understated elegance”
‘Understated elegance' really does hit the mark as this is very much the first impression that greets you once entering the cabin, a considerable difference to what previous Club World cabins have looked like. The 56 modern contemporary suites are set into a 1-2-1 herringbone configuration meaning that every suite has direct access to an aisle, that access being guarded by a sliding door.
The overall look is of classic modernity utilising differing shades of grey (no where near 50 fortunately) and silver with the use of some blue lighting adding a splash of colour and highlighting. This being mirrored in the logo on the aircraft bulkhead.
I am in the mini cabin in between the galley and the economy or ‘World Traveller cabin. My home for the next seven hours is suite 15E at the front of this cabin which has the benefit of a large flat surface to put my bag on making it easy to get access to my belongings that I will require on the journey before putting my bag into the very roomy overhead baggage bin.
On the seat ready for me was my White Company amenity kit containing a comfy eye mask, socks, earplugs, toothbrush and toothpaste and pen alongside the branded Moisturiser, Lip balm and Relaxing pulse point roller altogether in a handy sized zip pouch sat on top of my blanket and mattress pack and a huge soft pillow.
Unfortunately my suite was in the central section and therefore without a window but a quick look in a neighbours suite shows a seat view from the seat as it is angled towards the window.
My suite faces towards my neighbour which means should I be travelling with somebody then to see and chat would be perfectly easy. If, like me, you are travelling alone it is really easy to slide the privacy screen up.
As I settle into the really rather comfy Collins Aerospace Diamond seat alternatively firm and soft in the right areas, I take my first look around and notice a very clean look with plenty of flat surfaces to make use of once airborne. The chair also has an adjustable arm rest.
Not all the facilities are immediately obvious, partially because of the clever use of storage and partially because I didn’t immediately see the glossy guide to the facilities and use of the suite which was located a little outside of my ‘personal’ area. For instance the hand held IFE remote is tucked away inside one of the storage areas.
Not that it is absolutely necessary as the 18.5 inch touch screen is very responsive, it does come in handy if you want to say, have the flight progress screen and a movie or a game available to view at the same time. Additionally as there is so much room in the suite (six feet seven inches I am told) the screen is a little to far away to comfortably touch whilst sitting back in your seat. Talking about the seat positions, these are accessed via a separate touch screen just under the lidded storage areas.
There are actually five separate storage areas. One under the foot rest in front of you, another is slightly further back about adjacent to your ankles with the seat in its upright position. Great for amenity kits or a bottle of water, however the CAA have judged that this should not be used during take off and landing whereas the under foot rest area can be which seems a little at odds. Plus with being given a bottle of water before takeoff this gave me a problem as to where to put it.
Further up at about elbow level are two separate but adjacent areas which both have closing lids. Inside one were my headphones and the above mentioned hand held IFE control device as well as two separate USB power supplies (one trickle one fast), a universal plug socket and the headphone socket. (The lid can be closed without trapping the wire from this too). Next door is a completely empty unit perfect for my phone, glasses and wallet.
The final area I think is quite clever. From above it is just a slot for inflight magazines etc, however it actually has a door which opens forward to reveal a vanity mirror which, being at head height ends up in the perfect position. However thats not all, a particular peave of mine is that in business class passengers are often, well conducting business, and nowadays that generally means the use of a laptop and there is often nowhere to put this device meaning it needs to stay in your bag in the overhead bin. Not with the Club Suite. I have a 15” Macbook which slid easily and securely into the available space.
The table is a solid piece of engineering which slides towards you into two positions and the ability to fold it out to double its size whilst remaining very sturdy with no wobble. This makes it very versatile in its use including being able to access your seat whilst still having items on it. In addition to the overhead light there is a very dinky little reading light just over your right shoulder and this was the only one I used during the entire flight.
One very noticeable result of these suites is that the aisle is very narrow, although in reality this is more of an issue for the crew than us passengers as why would we spend time in the aisle when we could spend most of the time in the roomy suite? A quick trip to the dedicated bathroom or the Club Kitchen is probably all that is required.
Although the whole product is leaps and bounds above previous Club World offerings it is the addition of a door that makes it a suite not a seat. Once closed you do feel like you are in a little world of your own even though with the seat in the upright position you are still peeping over the top. Once the bed is in full flat mode then the difference is noticeable. I didn’t actually get to sleep in the suite as my plan was to enjoy what both the aircraft and suite had to offer on the way out to Dubai and with the return flight departing at 01:30 to sleep as much as I could on the return. Unfortunately due to an aircraft change I didn’t get to do this. However from the brief experience I had I can imagine the combination of the comfortable seat, the reduced noise from both the enclosed suite and the aircraft itself would combine to make the experience a positive one.
One other thing the door provided was, as I had no control over window blinds it did work very effectively shielding the glare on the IFE screen from neighbouring windows.
A personal balance does have to be found about door open or closed. For obvious reasons the cabin crew prefer it to be open, particularly at meal times, so it becomes your choice as to wether to have it keep being opened and closed. To me this wasn’t a problem, the benefits of it being there and closed vastly outweighed the need to keep opening it for drinks and food etc.
WiFi has also been upgraded and is available to purchase in three different Data chunks at speeds around 2.4mbps.
GATE TO GATE IFE
As mentioned previously IFE is now gate to gate which would have been really useful back at Heathrow on my return as I need those few extra minutes to finish the film!!
There is a good, up to date, selection of movies, TV and games including some specific BA100 programmes. The inflight map had some interesting new viewpoints and the screen was clear. One slight oddity I thought was the lack of preflight safety video. Here I am sat in one of the most modern aircraft and the crew are up front wearing oxygen masks and life vests. To be fair I did not ask if this was standard or down to some glitch. Neither were there any external camera views available, these were exclusively the domain of the flight crew.
Time to taxi now and as the the screen is in a fixed position enabling the gate to gate IFE, to allow this from a safety perspective the seatbelt is now a lap and shoulder strap with the latter only needed for take of and landing.
Having flown on the A350 before I was ready, if you can call it that, for the relative quietness of the cabin both on start up through takeoff and into the cruise. Obviously this experience was just the same and at times sitting in the suite you can forget you are actually scooting along at nearly 1000kph 39000 feet in the air. The aircraft has been designed not only to fit an airlines bottom line but with a view to providing a much better living environment for both passengers and crew.The aircraft’s innovative design delivers a feeling of spaciousness wherever you look, with high ceilings and alluring ambient lighting, aimed at producing the perfect environment in which to enjoy flying to any long-haul destination. Airbus claims the A350 cabin to be the quietest on a twin-aisle aircraft (something I can readily believe), and its advanced technology delivers the highest possible air quality with optimised cabin altitude (6000 ft.), temperature and humidity, with the air being renewed every two-to-three minutes.
CLUB WORLD SERVICE
The new suite of course comes with the new fleet wide Club World service which provides an excellent choice of drinks and well cooked, tasty food starting with pre departure champagne and water (sometimes I wish I drank alcohol) followed by a drinks order shortly after takeoff which was provided with a bowl of nuts. Lunch orders have also been taken and my choice was
the Severn and Wye Scottish smoked salmon with egg and creme fraiche. Simple yet absolutely delicious. For the main I chose the Seared Fillet of British Beef. Always a good test of inflight catering and this one did not disappoint. Lunch was finished off with a Baked Chocolate tart - what else!
A lovely surprise midway through the flight was another chocolate hit in the form of a Magnum ice cream, definite treat! Later on there was the ubiquitous afternoon tea shortly before landing.
On both the inbound and outbound flights there are also options as to when you might like your food, particularly important for the return leg where passengers might prefer the extra sleep on board possibly opting for breakfast in the Club World lounge on arrival.
In addition the Club World kitchen was set up after lunch service was over.
This product could almost not be considered an upgrade to the existing seats as it is such a complete change, indeed it is a completely new product and a well designed one at that. It is very much part of the future for BA. Combine this with the A350 cabin benefits, the attentiveness of the cabin crew (not to mention the friendliness of the flight crew letting me have a nosy round on arrival) and even though I left my front door over 13 hours previously, on arrival I felt really quite fresh, ready to face what DXB had in store for me.