An Inside Look at British Airways’ Brand-New A350
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British Airways has officially taken delivery of its very first of 18 new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft on order. On Saturday, G-XWBA made its way from Toulouse (TLS) to its new home at London Heathrow (LHR) — one day later than originally planned, following a weather delay.
Until now, the only glimpse we’ve had inside the A350 was through virtual reality, but now we’ve been on the aircraft, sat in the Club Suite and smelled that new plane smell. This is the first major improvement to the airline’s business-class product in over a decade and the most exciting phase of the airline’s £6.5 billion investment program.
The new Club Suite product promises a vast improvement to the Club World seat currently in service, which is widely considered to be severely outdated. While other carriers had introduced industry-leading products such as Qatar’s Qsuite and the Delta One Suite, BA for long had continued to offer a 2-4-2-arranged business-class cabin.
That has changed with the delivery of the first A350 and the introduction of Club Suite. The most significant change is that every passenger in the Club Suite cabin has direct aisle access. The cabin is configured in a more comfortable 1-2-1 layout instead of its former 2-4-2 configuration. There are no cathedral ceilings in the Club Suite cabin, meaning there are overhead bins along the sides of the cabin and in the centre, though I didn’t find it to feel any less spacious.
The cabin features 56 seats in 14 rows of enclosed suites, which make Club Suite the airline’s most private seat in all its cabins — including first class. Similar to the Delta One Suite, the door can be closed manually and has about a one-inch gap for safety reasons.
Initially, I had trouble figuring out how to use the door, finding only a release latch for emergencies.
I did eventually come across the latch to release the door. It’s operated by a switch at the very back of the seat, which releases a catch, enabling it to be opened and closed.
I didn’t find the one-inch gap between the door and the other end of the suite to make the Club Suite feel any less private.
The seats are by Collins Aerospace, of the Super Diamond variety and are bespoke design uniquely for British Airways. The design is modern, fresh and above all, super comfortable — a huge jump up from the old Club World.
The design is modern and sophisticated. The blend of charcoal coloured material and white stitching looks fresh and clean. Instead of plastic, the area around the seat is lined with felt. This reduces noise, looks nicer and adds to the comfortable feel of the Club Suite.
Passengers seated in seats E and F — the middle two seats in the cabin — can have guaranteed privacy from gate to gate, as there’s a privacy divider that can be manually closed. Of course, if you’re sitting next to someone you know, you might want to leave it open for the duration of the flight.
The seat itself is controlled by an easy-to-use, touch-screen control panel. For ease, there are three pre-set seat positions: takeoff/landing, lounge and lie-flat. The controls also allow passengers to customise the position of the seat.
When in its lie-flat position, the seat stretches to a comfortable 79 inches, or 6’7″. At 21 inches wide, the seat is also bigger than the current Club World seat (20 inches) and can expand to an even wider 27 inches when the armrests are lowered.
Another notable improvement is the amount of storage available at each seat. Each Club Suite boasts 40% more storage than the current Club World seat, with a total of three storage bin options. Above the shoulder, there is a decent-sized compartment, which features an in-seat mirror and could fit a few smaller items comfortably.
Next to that, there is a smaller, shallow pop-open compartment that’s big enough for a phone and passport. The third is closest to the inflight entertainment (IFE) screen. It houses the remote control, one universal power outlet and two USB outlets, as well as the headphone port.
There’s also a small water bottle compartment below the vanity, closer to the feet.
The bespoke Club Suite design features another first-of-its-kind for British Airways in the form of its ottoman, which has been certified to allow stowage of luggage and bedding during taxi, takeoff and landing. It makes BA the first Super Diamond operator to receive the certification. When the seat was in its upright position, my feet could barely reach the ottoman, leaving plenty of space for when the seat was even slightly reclined.
The Club Suite design finally incorporates gate-to-gate entertainment functionality, which was severely lacking in the old Club World product that had to be stowed out of sight for taxi, takeoff and landing. The 18.5-inch seatback IFE system in the Club Suite is touchscreen and can also be controlled by the touchscreen handheld remote.
The tray table has also been redesigned. The bi-fold table extends from under the IFE screen and is large enough to easily accommodate a 15-inch laptop.
It also has the built-in option to partially retract to allow passengers to get in and out of the Club Suite during meal service.
The seat unfortunately cannot be in lie-flat position for taxi, take-off or landing. Also unfortunately, the A350 isn’t installed with individual air vents at each Club Suite seat, meaning you can’t customise the temperature during flight. Additionally, there’s no overhead personal light, however, there is a reading light over the shoulder.
World Traveller Plus
Back one cabin from Club Suite is World Traveller Plus, British Airways’ version of premium economy. It features 56 seats across seven rows of eight seats, which are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration.
The seat features a footrest as well as a calf rest, which is an addition from previous World Traveller Plus cabins.
At 38 inches when reclined, the pitch is an improvement to economy seats, which feature a mere 30-31 inches of pitch.
There are adjustable headrests on each of the seats, which can be folded on both sides.
The touchscreen IFE, which measures 12 inches, is sleek and modern and should be much more responsive than previous models. It can be operated by both touchscreen and via remote control.
The bi-fold tray table is released from the arm rest and folds in half to allow passengers to leave their seat during meal service, similar to the Club Suite.
The overhead bins throughout the cabin are very spacious.
There are two USB and universal power outlets in between each seat.
Passengers travelling in World Traveller Plus — on any of the airline’s aircraft, not just the A350 — will benefit from recent improvements to the soft product. New soft furnishings include a plush pillow and warmer quilt as well as new amenity kits. In terms of food, passengers can expect an enhanced customer service experience and an improved three-course meal.
At the back of the aircraft in the World Traveller cabin, British Airways’ version of economy, there are 219 seats arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration. There is a smaller World Traveller cabin just behind World Traveller Plus with just five rows of seats.
Directly behind the five rows in the mini World Traveller cabin is the larger World Traveller cabin.
If you’re lucky enough to bag 31H or 31C, they don’t have a seat in front of them, so they have a lot more legroom — even though they’re not bulkhead row seats.
Each of the seats offers 30-31 inches of pitch, which is pretty average for economy cabins on wide-body jets.
The cabin also features moveable headrests with neck supports.
The touchscreen IFE is decently sized at 10 inches and can be operated by the touchscreen only — there is no remote.
Each screen also features a USB outlet and headphone port.
Storage space isn’t in abundance, with this small pouch being the main area to store your belongings.
The tray tables fold in half allowing maneuverability within the seat. It measures approximately 39cm x 22cm.
The A350 will soon be only one of two long-haul aircraft that the airline operates in 3-3-3 configuration. Along with the Boeing 787, the A350 will ultimately be one of the comfiest ways to fly with the airline in economy, as its other aircraft will soon all be more tightly configured in a 3-4-3 format.
The World Traveller cabin also features a bathroom design especially for those with limited mobility. The partition wall between two bathrooms pulls back to allow for more space and accessibility.
With the introduction of the A350, gone will be the days of Wi-Fi roulette when getting on a British Airways aircraft. Each A350 will be outfitted with Wi-Fi and available to all passengers.
The aircraft boasts many technological advances, which will make for significant improvements to passenger comfort in-flight. The air inside the cabin will be refreshed every two-to-three minutes, as well as improved levels of humidity. There will also be improvements to the cabin pressure, which will be similar to that of the pressure experience at an altitude of 6,000 feet.
Other improvements to the atmosphere inside the cabin include 16.7 million variations of ambient lighting, designed to complement the time of day and the level of light outside, which should help to combat the effects of jet lag.
Destinations and Schedule
The aircraft will start its life flying short-haul to Madrid so that the crew are able to familiarise themselves with the operation of the aircraft. Then, it’ll start flying on long-haul routes.
On 2 September, BA will begin with the inaugural long-haul flight to Dubai (DXB). Then, as of 1 October, BA will begin A350 operations to Toronto (YYZ) and to Tel Aviv (TLV) from 1 December and Bangalore (BLR) as of 1 January 2020. By 2020, BA will also have introduced retrofitted 777 aircraft complete with Club Suite.
Following the non-revenue inaugural flight of the A350 to Madrid on 5 August, the airline’s website is yet to show the A350 operating on any of its flights to Madrid in the following days. Speculation around which flight(s) it will replace is driven predominantly by the fact that the only wide-body to currently operate the route is the 777 and acts as part of the airline’s cargo business. It is yet to be announced whether the wide-bodied A350 will replace the 777, replace one or more of the flights operated by a narrow-body aircraft or something completely different.
Following recent changes to the inaugural long-haul flight, the first flight will now depart to Dubai (DXB) on 2 September. The flight schedule is as follows:
- BA107 London Heathrow (LHR) 12:45pm Departure ⇒ Dubai (DXB) 11pm Arrival
- BA106 Dubai (DXB) 2:25am Departure ⇒ London (LHR) 6:25am Arrival
If you’re interested in redeeming Avios for the flight, you can do so at up to the following off-peak rates:
- World Traveller — 13,000 Avios + £182.20
- World Traveller Plus — 26,000 Avios + £311.12
- Club Suite — 50,000 Avios + £364.20
As of 1 October, BA will introduce the A350 on its second route, Toronto (YYZ):
- BA93 London Heathrow (LHR) 1:05 Departure ⇒ Toronto (YYZ) 3:55pm Arrival
- BA92 Toronto (YYZ) 6:30pm ⇒ London Heathrow (LHR) 6:40am (+1) Arrival
Two months later, on 1 December, the A350 will begin flying to Tel Aviv (TLV):
- BA163 London Heathrow (LHR) 8:55pm Departure ⇒ Tel Aviv (TLV) 3:40am (+1) Arrival
- BA162 Tel Aviv (TLV) 6:15am Departure ⇒ London Heathrow (LHR) 9:40am Arrival
And the last of the four long-haul destinations currently announced, Bangalore (BLR) will start on 1 January 2020:
- BA119 London Heathrow (LHR) 1:45pm Departure ⇒ Bangalore (BLR) 5am (+1) Arrival
- BA118 Bangalore (BLR) 7am Departure ⇒ London Heathrow (LHR) 12:40pm Arrival
British Airways had long been the world leader in business class, as it was first to introduce lie-flat business seats. Other airlines quickly followed suit and started to surpass the flag carrier of the United Kingdom. The Club World seat and cabin as we’ve long known it has come under severe scrutiny for being uncomfortable, out of date and inferior to what’s offered by many of the airline’s competitors.
Thankfully, the Club Suite has delivered on what British Airways promised to be an upgraded product for its passengers. Having experienced the seat first hand, we can say that our expectations have been met and we cannot wait to test this product out in the sky for the first time in August. Is it the best business class in the sky? Maybe not, but it’s definitely up there amongst the top — and a vast improvement to the current Club World product.
All photos by Dan Ross/The Points Guy.
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