Flying business class with British Airways

Dec 30, 2016

Everyone knows the feeling–of having no comfortable place to put your feet, of a crying baby being ten feet behind you. Flying long haul in economy is not fun. It’s no wonder that passengers tend to rage harder when they walk past seemingly halcyon world of superior first- and business-class seating.

After a bit of churning, I had the opportunity to fly British Airways Club World Business Class from London Heathrow to Lindbergh Airfield in San Diego, a ten hour flight. Weary after much traveling, I was looking forward to how flying in the highest class on a non-budget airline would treat me.

The Lounge

Flying Business entitles one to use of British Airways’ lounges. The company has two set up at London Heathrow Terminal 5, so I arranged myself the northern one, just a short walk after security. A receptionist scanned my ticket and ushered me in.

Fairly crowded, I could barely find a seat. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who figured out a way in. In any case, there was wifi available, as well as an unlimited amount of free coffee, soda, food, and pastries. As I arrived at 11:00am, they were replacing the breakfast pastries with a British-tasting chicken pasta and vegetarian roast. Nothing exceptional, but if you must eat in the terminal, it is much cheaper than paying for food at any of the other restaurants in the area that price gouge on their captive audience.

Lounge at Heathrow

Boarding

Club World members are actually not allowed to board first, coming after the those with children, the disabled, and a few other tiers of luxury flying. Still, I was led onto the upper deck of the Boeing 747 before most others. I found my seat (which had already had a blanket and eye mask laid on top of it) and was immediately greeted by one of the male attendants, who offered me a glass of champagne. Apparently, Europeans love to drink their long flights away. I was also offered a moist washcloth (the point of which I never figured out) and a drawstring bag with toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a pair of socks.

The Seat

You pay dearly for this

The entire point of the ridiculous airfare (apparently $9000 if purchased separately) is the seat. True to the advertisements, I was able to stretch out and adopt every sort of comfortable reading, reclining, or sleeping position through use of the control panel on the side.

A tray can be folded out and slid up to hold food and other assorted items the attendants will give you as the flight progresses.

Reclining in the air

The Flight

Champagne in hand, I then waited for two hours as some baggage issue I could not discern over the crackly intercom was resolved. Not a good start, but the pilot had that apologetic tone in his voice that only a British person could pull off. It made it more bearable.

I noticed something very odd about the business-class section: there was almost no one in it. The seat next to me was empty, as well as my entire row. In fact, over half of them appeared not to be filled! This just reinforced my theory that no actually pays full price for these things, and they’re mostly used as rewards for frequent customers. For the large amount of potential profit British Airways could make by selling the tickets at a marketable price, they seemed unconcerned about filling them up. Still, I cannot say that the absence of people being present to disturb me was in any way unwelcome.

Food

After takeoff, the attendants came by with an extensive menu delineating the three course meal I was about to receive. Each course had multiple options. I looked over the menu and tried to place my order, only to be told that most of what I wanted was unavailable. It appeared that the crew only had two options available for each: a meat and a vegetarian option.

In any case, for all the presentational hooplah and fancy menus that were thrown my way, the meal was fairly lackluster. Oh, sure, it looked exquisite, but didn’t much excite the tastebuds. That, or I may just be an uncultured swine in culinary matters.

Scottish smoked salmon with pickled cucumber, radish, and dill cream cheese Seared fillet of British beef with tarragon and mushroom sauce, sweet potato royale and broccoli florets Salted caramel slice with burnt honeycomb cream

They had a good selection of drinks, including both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. All the usual suspects, including tea, coffee (with and without caffeine), water, juice, beer, and some wines that apparently won some awards were available. I settled in with a can of Heineken. They food may not have blown me away, but free beer makes everything better.

About an hour before landing, the crew served a “light meal” consisting of somewhat underwhelming salmon salad. According to the menu, it was also going to include some dessert, but that never came.

All throughout the flight, I was able to help myself to a selection of fruits and candy made available to those flying in the upper classes. Again, nothing fancy, but given that any normal seat would have made you pay for this sort of thing, it is a welcome addition for the sort of traveler that often makes the costly mistake of forgetting to bring snacks onboard.

Entertainment

The seat comes with a screen and the usual smattering of movies and television shows. Some of the options were very puzzling. For example, the entire sixth season of Game of Thrones was available, but nothing else. The same went for other television shows, where the entirety of some random season could be watched, but nothing else. It’s hard to imagine who this is for, except for someone that happens to have watched just up to the sixth season, but no further and then is delighted to board the flight. I was not that person, and would have much preferred the first season.

The selection of movies contained a good variety of classics, comedies, and family movies. Minority Report was the perfect way to put off going to sleep. After that, I was surprised to find a large selection of foreign TV shows, my forte. I found selections in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and Korean, all apparently without English subtitles. I killed another hour watching Infinite Challenge as well as some generic Korean travel vlog about two sisters that go to Shanghai and take a shitton of selfies.

Other reflections

During the ten hour, twenty-five minute flight, the lights in the cabin were dimmed for the middle eight hours. One could, in theory, try to sleep if it lined up with their schedule, but I was not quite so lucky. Particularly tired passengers can extend this time using the provided eyemask.

Conclusion

None of the amenities or services I received were particularly exceptional, except, perhaps, the fact that I received any food at all (which will apparently no longer be free on shorthaul flights starting next year, and it would not shock me if BA follows WOW Air’s lead in extending the move to longhaul flights in the future). The main reason anyone would grab this $9000 seat is for the tranquility of the seat itself. It was comfortable, but this was ironically the first longhaul flight of my life during which I was unable to fall asleep, since it was also the first for which I did not stay up the night before. Terrible sleepers cannot expect to find relief just because the seat is more comfortable.

So there’s no reason to pay for this ticket, but if you can find some way to get this for free, or as a cheap upgrade, it is probably worth it just to get away from everyone else. Access to the lounge alone may be worth it if you usually purchase food at the terminal.

My next flight, though, I will probably just opt to save the points and fly the normal way. And, for the love of god, I will make sure to actually stay up the night before so that I can actually sleep.

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