First-Class Service, Economy-Class Food: British Airways Club World on the Boeing 777 From London to Abu Dhabi
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As one of our first TPG UK projects, we thought we would do something never done before in aviation-review history: review and compare all four classes, on the very same flight at the same time, including World Traveller (economy), World Traveller Plus (premium economy), Club World (business class) and First (first class). To make things fair, we decided that we would draw names to decide who would be flying in which cabin class, and I got Club World.
We wanted a long-haul destination that was around seven or eight hours long — but not the East Coast of the US — on a British Airways aircraft operating with a four-class configuration. After much deliberation, we opted for a flight from London Heathrow (LHR) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) on a Boeing 777-200 with a flight time of around six and a half hours.
Return fares on British Airways to Abu Dhabi can be as low as around £1,598 if you’re flexible with dates.
Booking with Avios, a return trip would have come to 100,000 Avios plus £553.34, which may at first have seemed like a good deal, but when you factored in the value of £1,150 for those 100,000 Avios at TPG’s current valuation, it brought the total actual cost of the flight to £1,703. In this case, if you had the cash available, it would have made more sense to pay cash for the ticket to get better value.
For us, however, using Avios was a no-brainer. As is often the case, a one-way ticket on legacy carriers like British Airways is often a lot more expensive than a return. In this case, the cost of a one-way in cash to Abu Dhabi was a staggering £4,098.
This is where using Avios showed its value. We had planned on flying back with a different airline for another review, so we only needed a one-way flight out. For a total of 50,000 Avios (or £575, per TPG’s current valuation) plus taxes at £374.15, we managed to save a total of £3,148.85 by booking with Avios rather than cash. We paid for the taxes using the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card to take advantage of the 3x Avios for booking with BA.
Heathrow Terminal 5, British Airways’ home base, has a vast check-in area spanning the entire length of the terminal from north to south, comprising zones A through J. The majority of the economy-class check-in areas are now automated, and interaction with staff is limited. For Club World/Europe and first-class passengers, however, there is a dedicated check-in area complete with a team of British Airways staff to assist with check-in. The dedicated area for Club World/Europe passengers is Zone H, at the far southern end of the terminal, just before the First Class wing.
In my experience, queues here are never really long, and this time I breezed straight through to a free customer-service agent who happily presented me with my boarding pass and sent my suitcase on its way to the plane. I asked a couple of questions about how busy the flight was and whether it was looking like an on-time departure, and the staff member was more than happy to tell me everything I wanted to know about the flight.
You do have the option of checking in via the British Airways app and accessing your boarding pass through the same, but being a collector of boarding passes since 2006, I prefer to have the hard copy printed for me at check-in. We also wanted to put the priority-baggage tag to the test and see which of our four cases came out first, so I checked luggage.
Our flight departed from the C gates, the furthest satellite terminal from T5’s main terminal. It’s only accessible via the underground shuttle train that connects the terminals, so make sure you leave enough time to get to your gate if you’re in the Galleries North, South, First or Concorde Room lounges. With a Club World ticket, you’ll have access to the Galleries North and South lounges, but if you’re departing the C gates and flying Club World, as I was that day, I would recommend the Galleries B Gates Lounge for a quicker transfer to your gate. That way, you avoid having to do what we did: sprinting to our flight while the final-call tannoy sounds overhead.
We made it to our gate with plenty of time to spare despite the final call.
Once the final passengers had boarded and my Champagne had been served, we pushed back from the gate. The GE90 engines had us up in the air at 1:30pm, around 10 minutes behind schedule. Our old bird was G-VIIK, which was delivered new to British Airways way back in 1998.
Cabin and Seat
It’s well known that British Airways gets some stick for its tightly packed 2-4-2 configured business-class cabin, but it really didn’t feel overcrowded at all. That may have been due to it being probably the emptiest Club World cabin that I’d ever seen, but I still don’t feel it hurt my experience on this flight. Despite the aircraft being almost as old as me, the cabin didn’t appear to need a makeover in the slightest.
My seat was 10K, in the front row of the Club World cabin. It was perfectly clean, tidy and ready for its 3,432-mile trip to Abu Dhabi. SeatGuru warned that it had a misaligned window and that the proximity to the galley might be bothersome, but I found neither to be an issue. The seat was quite narrow, but that’s not shocking in a 2-4-2 configuration.
The seat reclined into a fully flat 72-inch-long bed. I’m around 5 feet, 8 inches on a good day, so pretty average as far as Englishmen go, but as you can see, my feet were pretty much flush against the seat in front. So if you’re Dutch or Brian Kelly, then it’s probably going to be a bit of a squeeze.
The controls for the seat were pretty simple and easy to use. I could select preset positions from lie-flat to takeoff and landing to completely upright or adjust the seat to a custom position.
Previous Club World cabins I have flown in have let me down when it comes to power outlets (the worst was a flight to New York that didn’t even have a USB or a UK power socket), so I was pleasantly surprised to see not one but two USB ports. One was at shoulder level near the handset, and the other was on the floor near the tiny storage drawer, which was just about big enough to fit a bottle of water, passport, headphones, amenity kit and phone charger.
The only place available for setting down my drink was on the tray table, as there was no other surface area available — this is where I could start to see what had been sacrificed for the 2-4-2 layout. Once the tray table was fully extended, unless you’re a ninja, it was pretty impossible to get up and leave your seat. (You could, however, scuttle around a half-extended tray.) On the plus side, the tray table was big enough to accommodate my 15-inch laptop with enough spare room for a drink.
Unlike some of the other major legacy carriers around the globe, British Airways does not have an onboard bar for either its business- or first-class cabins. Instead, they have what I would describe as a school-style tuck shop with a small selection of snacks, soft drinks and wines to help yourself to. (If you’re daring enough, you can always ring the call bell or head to the galley to get a drink — the crew on my flight were more than happy to help.)
Amenities and IFE
Ready and waiting on my seat when I boarded the aircraft was the airline’s signature White Company bedding. The pillow was bigger and plumper than what I have at home. It doubled up perfectly for sleeping and had great lumbar support when I was upright. Inside the bag was a duck-feather duvet, a day blanket and a thin mattress protector.
There was also a set of British Airways-branded noise-canceling headphones — the noise-canceling ability was such that I didn’t even know they were noise-canceling until I Googled it.
Before takeoff, a member of the cabin crew handed out the White Company amenity kits, which included a host of bits and bobs. The sleep mask was probably one of the best I’d tested in the sky — it was comfy and really good at blocking out light. There was a pair of striped flight socks, a travel-sized toothbrush and miniature toothpaste, an assortment of skincare products and a flimsy yet functional biro.
The age of my Speedbird definitely showed in the quality of the IFE. The screens had to be stowed during takeoff, stealing anywhere up to about an hour of your film watching time. And the touchscreen was essentially nonexistent. After trying several times to turn on my screen with the usual pressure, I actually gave up, assuming that it mustn’t be touchscreen at all. (It definitely flunked the Dorsey test.)
I reverted to using the handheld control, but even that was laggy.
The moving map feature was quite old-school, too, but it worked just fine, despite not having the touchscreen zoom functionality that most gadgets have these days.
The front-view cam was more similar to a Windows 95 version of Flight Simulator than an actual real-life view from the cockpit, but it was better than nothing.
Each seat had a little reading light that was brighter the sun and was far better than the ceiling lights you get in economy cabins.
This 777-200 aircraft was, surprisingly, fitted with Wi-Fi, and for the reasonable charge of £15 for the duration of the flight, I was able to send emails, reply to WhatsApp messages and refresh the all-important Instagram feed. I wouldn’t say the speed was particularly fast, but it was perfectly adequate for what I needed and a lot better than the Wi-Fi on other long-haul flights I’d been on recently.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
I had barely settled into my seat when I was offered a glass of Champagne or an orange juice. I’m not a huge fan of sparkling wine, but it’s almost obligatory when flying Club. My glass was topped up twice before we had even taken off — now that’s service!
The menus were handed out just before takeoff and were written in both English and Arabic. I ordered a seasonal salad for my starter and the roast neck of lamb for the main.
As soon as the aircraft reached cruising altitude, I ordered and was swiftly served my Jack Daniel’s and Diet Coke on a little black tray with mixture of strange-tasting nuts.
Shortly afterward, and less than an hour after takeoff, my salad arrived accompanied by a warm and stale piece of bread, which I decided not to eat. The Australian shiraz, though, was delicious. The salad’s only flavour was the rather overpowering mustard tones of the honey mustard dressing.
About 20 minutes later, my delicious-smelling lamb was served. Did it taste as good as it smelled? Yes, if not better! It was amazing — a word not often linked with plane food in general, let alone BA plane food. The meat melted in my mouth and was scrumptiously flavourful.
But this was the only good thing about the whole meal. The rice was so crunchy that I thought I had cracked a tooth with my first bite. It was so inedible that I was still quite hungry when I finished the meal.
For dessert, I had the chocolate-and-salted-caramel mille-feuille. I may have chosen something else had I known beforehand that this would be the tiniest dessert I ever did see. I was even tempted to finish the now even staler bread that hadn’t been cleared, as I really did not feel like my hunger had been satiated by this meal.
After the meal, cabin lights were dimmed to allow passengers to get some shuteye. Lights were turned back on around an hour and a half before landing, and I was asked whether I would like sandwiches or tapas. I jumped at the tapas. but I felt like BA were covering their backs by calling this second service a snack rather than a meal, as it really was just a couple of mouthfuls. One of the olives actually tasted like hand soap, and the tiny tortilla was too cold. Things improved with the mouthful of beans, smoky hummus and the smoked salmon.
The crew on BA73 were attentive, professional and friendly from start to finish.
Around 90 minutes after the lights were dimmed after dinner, as I struggled not to wake the whole cabin with my hysterical laughter while watching “Johnny English,” I tested out the call button. Less than a minute later, a member of the cabin crew came to take my order, and my Coke Zero was in my hand within seconds. Test passed.
When flying long-haul, especially on British Airways, I like to spend time in the galley between service periods for a bit of banter with the cabin crew. The crew were more than happy to chat between their various tasks, and interacting with passengers in this way didn’t seem to be an issue at all.
I had no need to ask for an extra pillow, as the one I had been provided with was thick and plump enough for me. Should I have needed another, the extra pillows from the empty seats were placed in the overhead lockers before takeoff.
British Airways don’t provide a turndown service in the Club World cabin. Especially when tired in a darkened cabin with not a lot of space for maneuverability, setting my seat up ready for sleep was a bit of a clunky process, but I got there eventually. I didn’t actually have time to sleep on this flight, as I spent the majority of it socialising with the TPG team and the crew, but the seat was certainly comfortable enough for a good dose of rest.
I really did enjoy this flight — from start to finish, I was impressed by the amazing crew, who could not have done more to make sure I had everything that I needed and that I enjoyed my flight. I wouldn’t complain about the outdated Club World cabin, as it really didn’t make for an uncomfortable journey and it’s widely looked down upon in the industry without me adding to the furore. The food, however, really was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. Apart from the lamb, which was delicious, the rest was something I’d really rather forget.
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