Suite refresh: A review of British Airways’ Club Suite on the refurbished 777, New York to London
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Slick, modern seats on this older aircraft, excellent lounge at JFK and wonderful crew
The sliding door was pointless, the mattress pad didn't match the seat, boarding was chaotic, and check-in was slow.
British Airways launched its long-awaited new Club Suite on its new Airbus A350 aircraft to much fanfare earlier this year. While the seats will be installed on all Airbus A350 aircraft as they are delivered factory fresh to the airline, BA now has the long and complex task of retrofitting these seats (or a variant thereof) to more than 100 wide-body aircraft.
This process will take years, as only a few aircraft can be taken out of service for the refit at a time. The very first aircraft to receive the refit was one of BA’s oldest, a 22-year-old Boeing 777-200. Its first commercial route is back and forth between London Heathrow (LHR) and New York-JFK on the BA173/112 rotation, and I jumped at the chance to try out the new Club Suite on the 777 only a few days after the refit was complete.
How did the brand-new product fare on such an old aircraft?
We found award availability around four days in advance on Flight BA112, which we determined from the seat map featured the new Club Suite.
For a one-way flight, the best way to book is with British Airways Avios, which charges 50,000 Avios one-way in Club World on an off-peak date and 60,000 for a peak date. Fees, taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges are steep, £504 from New York to London.
The taxes and fees associated with BA award tickets are very high, but considering that round-trip flights regularly sell for £6,000+ on this route, it’s a relatively small price to pay. And, with BA as a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards UK, it’s easy to amass the points required to book flights.
British Airways operates sizable operations at New York-JFK’s Terminal 7 with around a dozen departures to various London airports every single day, mostly in the evening. BA112 holds the honor of being the first evening departure (there is also a day flight that leaves in the morning).
The benefit of being the first flight of the evening is that it is one of the quietest periods in Terminal 7. I arrived around two hours before the flight and was relatively surprised to see a hefty World Traveller/World Traveller Plus queue.
I was happy to see a completely separate Club World and First check-in area. This was definitely a premium touch, though the arrows in the signage needed to be fixed.
I was less excited when I saw a long queue for the Club World check-in area and the five check-in counters moving very slowly. There were no check-in kiosks, so I joined the queue and waited. It moved slowly, and I could see Club World passengers around me becoming frustrated.
When I finally reached the desks, the check-in agent excitedly told me the news that my particular flight would be have the brand-new Club Suite. I smiled knowingly, as this was the exact reason I had booked this particular flight on this particular date.
With boarding pass in hand for my selected window seat in Row 12, I headed toward the premium security line. This involved walking past the First/Oneworld Emerald check-in area, which looked far more comfortable and more efficient than the Club World/Suite check-in area, as it should be, I guess!
From there, it was a short walk to the premium passport check, staffed by a very upbeat and friendly officer who jokingly suggested the couple in front of me should sign their infant up for Global Entry.
Security was fairly quick by U.S. standards, only marred by TSA agents screaming at anyone who dared to walk through the metal detectors with their shoes on.
The BA lounge was up two flights of stairs from security, next to the Alaska Airlines lounge.
The desk agents were busy complaining to each other about their jobs and barely paused to check my boarding pass.
Despite flying between London and New York regularly for TPG, I’d never been in the BA JFK lounge before. Given how many flights BA operates each evening, I expected the lounge to have a fairly large capacity but still was pretty surprised at its size — it is enormous, with multiple huge rooms.
Having just undergone a refurbishment (much like the plane I was about to board!), everything was new, fresh and modern. There were very wide spaces between some of the furniture and around the bars and food areas. While this may help when the lounge is crowded, at 5 p.m. it gave the feeling of the lounge being temporary, as if the furniture didn’t quite fit the space it was placed in.
The lounge was busy but not packed. I liked the new black bars, where there was no wait to be served. There were various self-serve wines on offer.
I also loved the special Brewdog bar area, where you could pour yourself several different beers. I usually dislike in-lounge promotions and partnerships, as they can cheapen what should be a premium experience, but where they are done well like this Brewdog bar, they’re a great feature. Several passengers were happy to try out some different craft beers direct from the taps.
The lounge was so massive that, even after taking a full lap, I couldn’t quite decide where to settle. There didn’t seem to be much actual food laid out given the hundreds of seats in the lounge, only some make-your-own salads and cheese and crackers.
I did eventually spy a limited variety of hot food near the entrance to the lounge.
I noticed a separate area called The Brasserie, with the entrance guarded by a staff member, vaguely remembering something about Club Suite preflight dining. There was no information about who did and did not have access to this area, and I was not advised of this at check-in or at the lounge entrance.
Feeling a little foolish, I approached the staff member blocking the entrance and asked, “Am I allowed to come in here?” To which she looked at my boarding pass and welcomed me inside. BA should be advising business-class passengers of the rights they have to access this area rather than assuming they will work it out themselves.
Inside, The Brasserie was the best part of the lounge.
There were a number of hot-food options, as well as a small a la carte menu of made-to-order food. The drinks were the same as in the main part of the lounge.
There were cafeteria tables all around the room, and the wide spaces again gave the feeling that the space was temporary and the furniture ordered for a different space. The dining area was not crowded, and the staff in here was outstanding — welcoming, friendly and very helpful.
Although drinks initially had to be collected by passengers themselves, refills were offered and fetched by the lounge staff. The same young parents and their infant from the premium security queue were seated a few tables away from me, and the staff was. wonderful with the baby.
If you have a Club World/Suite ticket from Terminal 7, make a beeline for The Brasserie. It’s a really wonderful space, and I was actually sorry to have such little time there to catch the first BA flight of the evening. I would happily relax there for hours if my flight left late in the evening.
I left the lounge and walked down to Gate 6, where my flight departed. Terminal 7 was bright and pretty busy this early evening.
Gate 6 had plenty of people milling around but also plenty of seating.
When I reached the gate, five minutes before scheduled boarding time, I panicked to see groups 4 and 5 being called for boarding. I assume this meant most of the plane had boarded, which would make photos of the cabin difficult.
I raced up to the Group 2 boarding line (with my Group 2 boarding pass), and the gate agent explained that due to the narrow aisles in Club Suite on this particular plane, they boarded back to front, as World Traveller passengers would not be able to squeeze past Club Suite passengers. While this made sense, it was not communicated via the P.A. system to the gate area, resulting in a lot of confused and frustrated Club Suite passengers being turned away from the boarding lane while it appeared the flight was in the last few stages of boarding.
Group 1 (First and Oneworld Emerald) were invited to board at any time, and Group 2 was finally invited to board once all Group 4 and Group 5 passengers were boarded. Group 3 (World Traveller Plus) boarded after Group 2. Given they were sitting behind Club Suite, this made no sense to me as Group 4 and Group 5 were boarded before Group 2.
Cabin and Seat
The entire plane boarded through the very front door of the aircraft, which meant every single passenger stomped through the first-class cabin to get to their seat.
The few First passengers already at their seats looked mighty annoyed at the parade of 200-plus people passing through their cabin, and I’m amazed the airline chose this door to board the entire plane through. I managed a sneaky phone shot of the refurbished 777 First cabin, which had reduced from 14 to only eight seats. The seat design was almost identical to the previous First cabin, just with fewer seats.
The Club Suite began in Row 5 with a minicabin consisting of three rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. There was one extra seat squeezed in as 8K, which from the seat map looked like it was almost in the galley, but you’ll notice from the photo below that it was indeed in the minicabin. The galley was staggered at the back of the minicabin, so while 8K was probably the least desirable seat in the cabin, it was certainly not in the galley.
Past the galley and bathrooms was main cabin, with 36 seats spread out evenly across nine rows. My first impressions of the cabin were fantastic: The beautiful sunset colors flooding through the windows bounced off the slick black and gray finishes of the new seats.
I had selected Seat 12K, a window seat midway through the cabin.
Everything about the seat was fresh and shiny, and the dark colors were sophisticated and slick. I really liked it.
I had a look around the seat. Just like the A350 version, there were three separate storage compartments that were mostly closed but not latched closed. It took me a few goes to work out how to shut them properly.
There was a universal adapter in one of the compartments, along with the remote for the inflight entertainment and two USB chargers.
There was a literature pocket almost hidden from view.
One thing to note is that some Club Suite on the 777 have two windows while some only have one, due to the size of the suites. Row 12 had only one window, while Row 11 in front of me had two, so Row 11 is one of the best window seats in the cabin.
If you had a laptop, like I did, the shapes of the compartments meant you couldn’t open either with the laptop on the side bench.
The safety card was near the footwell, which I would probably not have found if I’d not been hunting around the seat photographing everything.
There was also a footrest with space for shoes underneath.
There was a good-sized bifold tray table, and I liked how you could slide it up and down on its rail depending on how close you wanted it to your body.
Let’s talk about the walls and the door. For me this was a fail. It’s certainly a fabulous feature to give business-class passengers privacy by building a suite with a door, but this seat just had one fundamental problem: The walls and door weren’t nearly high enough. I’m 6 feet, and when seated upright, even with the door closed I could still see almost the entire cabin, including other passengers’ faces and what the crew was doing.
Other seat designs like Cathay Pacific’s business-class seat don’t have walls or a door but provide excellent privacy with the addition of a clever head shroud, so you can’t see another passenger’s face when you’re seated. While this might seem like a small benefit, it gives the feeling of there being no one else in the cabin.
In terms of suite walls and doors that provide proper privacy, Qatar Airways’ award-winning Qsuite has much higher walls and doors, meaning you can’t see another passengers at all with the door shut. The BA Club Suite doesn’t have the same effect, and the only reason some passengers’ heads aren’t visible in the image below was because they had reclined their seats to sleep.
In sleeping mode there was certainly privacy, though it didn’t really come from the door. Your head was by the suite wall, and you couldn’t really see the door at that angle or whether the door was open or closed.
At the height of the walls BA had chosen for the Club Suite, I found the door to be fairly pointless. It was so low that the crew served me breakfast over the closed door.
As it was an overnight flight, I gave the flat bed a try. At 6 feet, I often find both the top of my head and the balls of my feet touching either end of the bed. I was pleased to find the 777 Club Suite more spacious than this, and was not restricted at all as I slept. This was definitely one of the better flat beds I had slept in.
There was a handy panel on the side of the seat to recline the seat.
Amenities and IFE
My seat featured a 18.5-inch IFE screen.
Shortly after settling into my seat, a crew member approached me apologizing profusely that my IFE was not working and the seat should have been blocked. She explained that the only other free seat in the cabin was a middle seat directly across the aisle from me.
With an under-seven-hour overnight flight and an inviting flat bed ahead of me, I wasn’t planning to settle in for a long movie and was only planning to try out the IFE briefly for the purposes of this review. I explained that I really wanted a window seat and we quickly agreed on a great compromise: I could eat and sleep in my window suite and watch movies on the middle seat if I wanted to.
I sat briefly in the middle seat. There was a divider completely blocking the seat next to it.
The IFE screen itself was crisp, responsive and had hundreds of movies and TV shows.
There was also a reasonably basic flight map.
In the literature pocked in my seat were the standard inflight magazine, duty-free guide and a special guide to the new seat.
Awaiting me on my seat was a plush pillow and a big, full laundry-type bag containing bedding from The White Company.
I’ve never quite understood the logic behind placing so much bedding on the seat prior to boarding, as the first thing every passenger has to do is remove it and find somewhere else to put it in order to simply sit in their seat. I placed this immediately into the overhead bin and settled into my seat.
Crew members moved through the cabin as boarding concluded handing out “wash bags” (amenity kits) branded by The White Company celebrating British Airways’ 100th year in 2019.
They featured a standard mix of items including Restore & Relax Spa Collection toiletries.
One frustrating part of the flight was the Wi-Fi. I tried to access it for a good 90 minutes after takeoff to try out its speed and reliability but could not get it to connect for that entire period, so I gave up in favor of catching some sleep.
There were no pajamas to change into, but I checked out one of the two lavatories for the business cabin. They were standard size, and there was little to differentiate them from the economy bathrooms on this same aircraft.
I opened my White Company bedding and found three similar-looking items folded up. Looking confused, I asked my wonderful flight attendant, Elaine, to help explain what each item was for. She smiled and assured me this was a common problem passengers encountered.
She laid out the first item, a mattress pad, which she said didn’t fit the seat it was designed for. She wasn’t kidding.
The other two items were a lightweight blanket and a thick duvet. I made up my own bed and snuggled in. Aside from the ridiculous mattress pad, the bedding was lovely.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
I was offered a glass of Champagne during boarding from a tray of filled glasses as I watched the beautiful sunset outside.
Menus were also handed out for the dinner and breakfast service, with breakfast cards offered for those who wanted to maximize their sleep.
Further drinks were offered after takeoff, and I switched from the brut to the rose Champagne, pleased that both were offered. This was delivered on a small tray with some mixed nuts as the darkness of the evening set in.
BA is by no means the only airline to do this, but a pet peeve of mine is when rice crackers are mixed in with nuts. They are cheap filler that don’t match the other items in the bowl, and I end up picking around them.
The appetizer was served with a bread roll (no choice) and a side salad. No trolleys were used in the meal service, which was a classy touch.
The menu described my chosen appetizer item as Caesar salad with beef tataki, which sounded like an odd marriage of two very different styles of cuisine. The salad initially appeared to be undressed, but I then realized the creamy dressing was actually under the salad (with the salad then placed on top). This was a surprisingly clever way to serve a salad with a thick dressing that I had never thought to do before.
I selected maple soy-glazed salmon with gnocchi for my main course.
The dish had been plated on board rather than just being reheated in its original dish, and the difference in presentation was noticeable: no burnt, dry edges, no sauce slopping down the side of the plate.
This turned out to be a tasty but extremely rich dish, which on a short overnight flight is not advisable if you’re planning to sleep immediately afterward. I felt like going for a long walk after dinner to try and work off the heavy meal I’d just enjoyed.
For dessert, I had a cinnamon cobbler, which despite the fairy average presentation was tasty and relatively light compared to the entree.
Dinner was completed two hours after takeoff, which is fairly standard on this route.
I completed the menu card before settling in to sleep, and like clockwork the crew woke me up 75 minutes before landing with the selected breakfast all served on one tray over the of the suite door. Despite not being very hungry, as it was barely three hours after dinner had concluded I enjoyed breakfast in bed with the bacon-egg-and-cheese panini.
I had a Worldwide crew on my flight who were older, experienced and very professional. The main crew member serving me, Elaine, was wonderful, and we had a good old chat about the new seats as well as wider travel topics like the current civil unrest in Hong Kong and her experience during recent layovers there.
Elaine had been crewing for BA for many years, and her experience shone through — she is a credit to the airline. She was the perfect mix of professional and personable, and I enjoyed every interaction with her. She divulged that it was that crew’s first flight with the new seats (as the aircraft had only operating post refurb for a few days) and that they had not received much training. This meant they were still familiarizing themselves with the intricacies of the seat and did struggle somewhat with functions like locking the seats open for takeoff.
This product is obviously a huge improvement over the previous Club World seat. The cabin felt really fresh and new. I certainly did not feel like I was on a 22-year-old aircraft. I slept very well on the overnight flight, though I feel that the suite door is poorly thought out, as was that weird mattress pad. I’m not abnormally tall, but it felt rather pointless given I could see the entire cabin with it closed when the seat was upright and didn’t need it when the seat was fully reclined. Another 6 inches of height on the suite walls and door would have made a huge difference.
As best as I can tell, the seat is identical to that installed on the Airbus A350 product. The cabin width of the Boeing 777-200 is actually slightly wider than the Airbus A350, though the design of the seat means narrow aisles on both aircraft. What was interesting on this aircraft was walking through the first-class cabin during boarding (the A350 does not have a first-class cabin). While the First seats are more spacious, they are quite exposed and didn’t actually look nearly as slick or modern as the Club Suite installed directly behind them.
With its solid food, drinks and service in Club Suite and those shiny new seats, I was actually happy I was in the second-highest-class of service on the flight. I think BA will have some difficulty charging a big premium for First over Club Suite on aircraft with both cabins, but they now have a very solid business-class product on one of their oldest aircraft, and I would be equally happy with either class in the future.
All photos by the author.
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