How COVID-19 changed BA’s Galleries South lounge for the better
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I’ve spent a lot of time in British Airways Galleries lounges over the years. But, like everyone, my travels came to an abrupt stop when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and most flights were grounded.
On Sunday, I took my first international flight since the U.K. government relaxed restrictions on travel. It was also my first time flying British Airways in Club Europe since the world of aviation changed.
I wrote about my BA Club Europe experience and what it was like as a business-class passenger or an elite member with Silver or higher status during the pandemic. However, as part of that flight, I experienced an improved lounge offering. Here’s why BA’s changes to its Galleries South lounge at Heathrow feel more like an improvement, rather than cutbacks.
Who gets access?
At the time of writing, the only lounge in T5 at Heathrow that is currently open for business class passengers — travelling in either Club World or Club Europe — or travellers in other cabins who have Silver or higher elite status is the Galleries South lounge.
On entering the lounge, one of the first things I noticed is how deserted the empty self-service buffet area of the lounge is. It’s a stark reminder that things are still very far from being back to normal.
The seating areas are now sectioned off into smaller areas with the addition of plastic screens. This seemed to be working fine, as for the most part, passengers obeyed signs on certain seats asking them to be left vacant. The distance between myself and other passengers was greater than I’ve ever before experienced in a BA lounge at Heathrow.
As travel picks up and passenger numbers increase, it’ll be interesting to see how British Airways is able to maintain adequate levels of social distancing. For now, there are a further two lounges in the terminal that have yet to be opened so it could be easy for the airline to do it. However, once passenger numbers really pick up even more, I wouldn’t be surprised if additional measures are brought in, such as booked time slots and tighter restrictions on who is eligible to use the lounges.
Food and drink service
Perhaps the biggest and best change of all is the food and drink service. At busy times, BA’s Galleries South and North lounges can be packed full of people who swarm around the buffet stations to feast before their flights.
Now, you order your food with your phone at your table and a member of staff brings your order directly to you.
To order, you use a QR code. All you have to do is scan it with your smart phone’s camera and it will prompt you to enter your name, table number and the “code of the day” for access to the menu and ordering system.
My travel companion and I ordered various different things at several points during our short 45-minute stay in the lounge and we were very impressed at how quick everything was delivered to our table. It never took longer than around three minutes at the most.
We both really enjoyed our breakfasts. The only complaint would be the slightly rubbery yet watery eggs.
The menu itself is actually quite different — here’s what you can expect to choose from on your next breakfast-time visit:
Full English breakfast
There’s both a meat and a vegetarian option. Both come with scrambled eggs, a grilled tomato, baked beans and rosti potatoes. The grilled back bacon and pork sausage on the meat option are replaced with red onion and rosemary sausages on the vegetarian option.
Guests can choose from lighter options such as greek yoghurt and cereals including Bran Flakes, Corn Flakes, tropical granola and muesli as well as porridge. The usual croissant, pain au chocolate and pain aux raisins are also still on the menu along with a fresh fruit salad.
I’d go as far as to say that the Union coffee in BA’s lounges is one of my favourite airport coffees. It’s freshly ground and doesn’t have that awful machine taste that you get in many other places where coffee is made en masse.
Options are pretty much the same: americano, espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha, white americano and hot chocolate.
And tea lovers will be pleased to know that there is still a selection of Twinings Teas to choose from. There’s English breakfast, earl grey, camomile, peppermint, cranberry and raspberry and green.
The soft drink menu is also relatively unchanged. There’s Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite, ginger ale, bitter lemon, Fanta orange as well as still and sparkling water, orange, apple, cranberry and tomato juices.
In terms of wine, there’s plenty to choose from, including The Olive Grove Chardonnay (2017), Spy Valley Pinot Grigio (2016), James Bryant Hill Pinot Noir (2016), Acon Roble Tempranillo (2016), William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru (2016), Schlosskellerei Gobelsberg Gruner Vetliner (2018) and Warre’s Port. The bubbles option is now a sparking Gusbourne Brut Reserve, Traditional Method (2015). You can also ask for bucks fizz if that’s your thing.
Now onto the hard stuff. Vodka drinkers can choose from Ketel One, Smirnoff No 21 Red, Ciroc, Ciroc Pineapple and Ciroc Red Berry.
If Whisk(e)ys and bourbons are more your thing, then you’ve got Johnny Walker Black Label, Johnny Walker Red Label, The Singleton of Glendullan 15-year-old single malt, Bulleit Bourbon and Roe & Co blended Irish whiskey.
For gin lovers, in addition to the usual Tanqueray and Gordons, there’s now Tanqueray No. 10, Gordons Pink and Jinzu gins to make that decision a little harder.
There’s also a white and dark rum, tequila, Baileys, Pimms and Otard VSOP Cognac.
As tempting as it might be to head over to a fully stocked bar, there are signs in place to remind guests that it is strictly table service only.
Overall, while you may think that the digital ordering system may reduce your options, just about everything we have known to expect from BA’s Galleries South lounge is still available. Like with most things during these uncertain times, it just may take some time to get used to “the new normal”.
The likelihood is that the current BA Galleries Club lounge experience will change and evolve again over the coming weeks and months, as COVID-19 restrictions relax even more — or toughen back up. What can be said for now though is that the extra space, more privacy and efficient table service really does make for a more enjoyable time in the lounge.
I, for one, hope that British Airways is able to maintain some of these positive changes going forward as travel starts slowly returning to normal.
Featured photo by the author.
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