Refreshed but with room for refinement: A review of British Airways World Traveller Plus on the refurbished 777
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A lot of excitement in British Airways’ 100th year has centered around its new Airbus A350 aircraft with the long overdue and highly publicized new Club Suite business-class product. BA has a huge task ahead to install this seat in more than 100 existing wide-body aircraft, a process that will take years.
The very first of the existing aircraft to complete the refurbishment was a Boeing 777-200, which was then assigned on the prized route from London Heathrow (LHR) to New York JFK. I got to try Club Suite on this aircraft, so I also wanted to try out the World Traveller Plus (premium economy) service. Having heard whispers this cabin was also receiving a refresh, I wondered: How would the product compare to other BA WTP flights?
World Traveller Plus flights between London and New York can be a great use of Avios, with one-way redemptions costing 26,000 Avios per person on off-peak days plus about £310 in fees, taxes and surcharges.
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5, the home of British Airways, around two hours before departure.
Having checked in online but still needing a boarding pass, I tried out the check-in kiosks.
These were efficient, and I had my boarding pass in no time. I headed through Terminal 5 security, which despite the terminal being busy, was quick and efficient. I have never waited more than five minutes at any London airport security in my several years of living there.
From there, it was downstairs to find my gate. No lounge access is included with a World Traveller Plus ticket without any airline status, so I wandered around the terminal itself. The gate areas in the A Pier were heaving on a Thursday morning.
My flight was departing from the B gates, so I headed underground to take the transit train.
The B gates had more seating, though there were no power outlets at each seat.
Shortly after I arrived at the gate, around 60 minutes before scheduled departure, an announcement was made that boarding would be delayed around one hour due to an engineering issue.
Passengers in Club and First cabins were invited to return to the BA lounge in Terminal 5, but with no lounge for me, I decided to just stay at the gate and get some work done.
Despite the supposed hour’s delay, boarding was delayed only 30 minutes, and I hoped we might even make up the time in the air for an on-time arrival into JFK.
Boarding was strictly maintained by group numbers. Groups 1 and 2 were boarded before me, and I was one of the first Group 3 members to board.
Other than the slight boarding delay, it was a civilized and organized ground experience and boarding process.
Cabin and Seat
I walked through the huge Club Suite cabins, which took up around half the aircraft, and then made it to the World Traveller Plus cabin behind it.
This was laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration. I was excited to see the seat fabrics were brand-new following the refurbishment, and the navy blue color looked smart.
The cabin was completely full on my flight, and with only a few seating options, I chose an aisle seat midway back in the cabin.
On closer inspection, I was disappointed to see that the refurbishment of the seats appeared to start and finish with the seat fabric. The casing of the seat had not been refreshed and was scuffed and dented. The IFE screens were also evidently previous-generation, as the buttons were quite faded.
Legroom was definitely a step above economy, and I liked the adjustable footrest.
The problem was there was very limited foot space under the seat in front of me. I do have big feet, but there was little room to fit these under what I expected would be a spacious seat.
There were two seat power sources to share between my seat neighbor and me.
There was a bifold tray table, which in upright position was able to accommodate my 13-inch laptop easily.
The recline of the seat was good, and I was able to fit in a comfortable, quick nap. Note that the seats recline deeply an abruptly: Both my seat neighbor and I were startled when the people in front of us reclined their seats.
The passenger in front of me was restless during the flight, and the seat shook significantly each time he tossed and turned. I could just manage to do some work on my laptop when the seat in front was fully reclined, though my concentration was interrupted numerous times when the seat in front wobbled and rattled because of the passenger’s movements.
Although boarding commenced around 30 minutes late, we ended up departing almost an hour late, as the secondary screening for those with a dreaded ‘SSSS’ on their boarding pass was not set up properly at our gate at boarding time (perhaps because the delay in boarding ended up being far less than expected), so there were still passengers trickling on board well after I thought boarding had been completed.
With the Club Suite cabin taking up so much of the aircraft, the 777-200 featured a surprisingly small single World Traveller (economy) cabin in a tight 3-4-3 configuration — this was the entire economy cabin.
There were no bathrooms dedicated to the WTP cabin. There was a pair of bathrooms at the back of our cabin shared between both cabins, though they were marked as out of order from boarding until several hours into the flight before a crew member noticed the stickers, checked the bathrooms and decided they were serviceable.
There was a curtain separating the premium and economy cabins, though this wasn’t closed until halfway through the flight, which added to the feeling that there was little differentiation between the World Traveller Plus and World Traveller cabins.
Amenities and IFE
This was the area where the flight really shone. I arrived to find several goodies waiting for me on my seat.
First was a plush, decent-sized pillow, which would not have looked out of place in business class.
There was a matching blanket, which was plush and large. Both had a really cool blue-and-white striped design that was fresh and stylish.
There was also a matching amenity kit in the same fun design, and headphones.
The headphones, while not noise-canceling, were of good quality and produced good sound. There was also the standard inflight magazine, duty-free magazine and sick bag in the seatback pocket.
While the IFE screens had not received an upgrade in the refurbishment, there were still hundreds of movies and TV shows to choose from. I certainly didn’t get bored!
Though the flight map was fairly basic, considering the plane had just been refurbished.
The selections could be navigated by remote control.
Bathrooms were a good size and pretty standard, though I noticed that the mirrors were filthy, even at the start of the flight.
Wi-Fi was available shortly after takeoff and had good speeds: I was able to get quite a bit of work done on the flight.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
During the boarding process, poured drinks were offered from a tray. The cabin crew said they had “water, juice or Champagne.” This immediately struck me as odd, because I didn’t think BA served actual Champagne in World Traveller Plus (few airlines do). This is nitpicking, but if it were prosecco or English sparkling wine the crew member really should have described it as such. In any case, it wasn’t very cold.
With an 11:20 a.m. departure, I expected a full lunch service followed by an afternoon tea meal shortly before landing, like I had experienced on other carriers on the same route, albeit with slightly later departure times.
As expected, lunch was served shortly after takeoff, beginning with a drinks service. All passengers were offered a premeal drink (a Bloody Mary for me) and asked to select wine for their meal. I asked for a white wine and was told there was only a sauvignon blanc. This was served with sour cream-and-chive pretzels.
There were three entrees. I would normally go for beef but decided to mix it up and selected a Thai prawn green curry.
BA serves World Traveller Plus meals still with the plastic and foil on top of containers. This really affects the presentation, and I wish they would tidy up the tray before handing it to the passengers (Virgin Atlantic does the same thing).
This is the difference five seconds of tidying would make:
One of the big selling points of British Airways World Traveller Plus catering is that the entree is from the Club World kitchen, meaning you can expect a business-class main course. Unfortunately, while Club Suite passengers on this flight received meals plated in the galley, the same could not be said for WTP meals, which were reheated in the same dishes they were loaded onto the plane in.
This resulted in a fairly unappetizing-looking dish that tasted OK but was dried out around the edges because of the reheating.
I did like the starter, a goat cheese, orange and beetroot tartare. The goat cheese especially was a premium and refined touch. The cookie-dough cheesecake for dessert was also decent and got me ready to be in New York City.
Midflight, a small ice cream was served.
It was already pretty cracked when I opened it.
Around 90 minutes before landing, a second meal was served. I was expecting some sort of afternoon tea like on other flights to New York, but it was a lonely pizza, with tea or coffee offered this time.
While the main dish from lunch was promised “from the Club World kitchen,” this was about as economy as it got.
The taste was decent, better than a frozen supermarket pizza and dense enough that it at least filled me up. I found the switch from proper china at lunch to paper cups for the second meal to be strange.
Delays and disruptions made for an uneven service flown that was little different from economy.
The crew on my flight were well-intentioned, but there were several frustrating elements to the flight. As the crew began serving lunch, they asked us both what we would like to drink at that moment and whether we wanted wine with our meal. I chose a Bloody Mary cocktail to start with and then white wine with my meal. This was both served to me before any food was. While that would ordinarily be fine, we then hit some turbulence, meaning the service was suspended for around 30 minutes.
This threw the entire service flow off. Most passengers drank their wine for their meal during the turbulence, and by the time their main courses were served, they had no wine left. The crew did not realize such a long delay would result in empty glasses, and, firstly, didn’t both offer more wine when the meals were finally served (seeing glasses were empty), and, secondly, didn’t offer any more drinks during the meal service at all.
While we were provided with coffee cups with our meal tray, the crew seemed so flustered that they completely forgot to serve any tea or coffee with lunch.
On this route that I’ve flown several times, I’m used to a full meal service shortly after takeoff and a lighter meal just before descent. The full lunch was served after takeoff as expected, but then midflight a single (mini) ice cream was served despite us having been served a normal dessert just a few hours earlier. I was confused why I was served two desserts so close together and initially thought that may be the entire second meal. But then around 90 minutes before landing, the crew came through a third time with a pizza, which, while filling because of its carby goodness, was not a patch on the afternoon tea usually served in World Traveller Plus on these flights.
There didn’t appear to be any crew members dedicated to the World Traveller Plus cabin — we were served first, but the same crew members then rolled down to World Traveller and served them. This added to the feeling there was little differentiation between the two cabins.
Given the huge improvement to the business-class cabin on this aircraft, I was hoping for more of an improvement in the World Traveller Plus cabin refresh. While new seat fabrics are nice on a 22-year-old aircraft, this was a pretty middle-of-the-road experience.
I appreciated the extra legroom and recline, and the awesome bedding was a lovely surprise, but this was far from a perfect flight. The lack of any real separation between the World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins was symbolic for the flight: While the premium cabin was served first, it felt fairly economy from start to finish. There wasn’t much room for my (big) feet next to the bulky IFE box, and the turbulence with a full cabin seemed to upset the service flow, as things were simply forgotten.
The second meal service was strange: two very light and decidedly economy snacks served separately rather than a proper afternoon tea service.
This aircraft is more than two decades old, as are many flying BA’s most profitable route, but in the future I’ll be looking for a more modern aircraft where possible.
All photos by the author.
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