Just How Bad is British Airways Club World Business Class?

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My return from Paris to Austin continued with my flying London Heathrow to Austin non-stop in British Airways Club World.

British Airways business class is a controversial product. It’s fully lie flat, which is better than angled, but it’s probably the worst lie flat product out there other than perhaps pre-merger United Boeing 777s. The airline often sells business class at a deep discount through sales, and so the product can be a good value (albeit not as much on award tickets where you’re paying fuel surcharges).

When it’s substantially cheap than the competition it’s value for money. But it’s far from top shelf. It’s also worth knowing that some seats are better – and worse – than others.

British Airways Business Class Used to Be Great, Now it’s a Value Product

British Airways pioneered lie flat seats in long haul business class. The seats weren’t wide or private, but they were classy with blue fabric and brown leather. I actually liked the old lie flat business class seat that I flew a decade ago on British Airways (‘New Club World’) more than the current iteration that feels like a sea of impersonal corporate cubes (‘Next Generation Club World’).

Five years ago I remember going out of my way to choose the older ‘new club world’ seat on a Boeing 767 rather than the new product. And I never actively prefer to fly a 767. While the newer seat is better as a seat I not only preferred the smaller cabin and warmer tones, I liked the older version better as a bed too.

BA business class is due for a refresh, the basics of the current seat began rolling out in 2006 [also when legacy United starting rolling out its seat..] and will eventually get one. But for now it’s a product that is fully flat, so that I’ll take over any remaining old angled business seat. But it’s also one that packs in a lot more people per available space than many other airlines. So it’s business class, which is much better than not business class. But it’s not a premium business class.

Because they have so many seats, they have to do more to fill those seats. Awards are possible, though British Airways awards generally incur fuel surcharges so are costlier than awards issued by US frequent flyer programs for travel on many other carriers. And British Airways frequently discounts the seats.

I was flying on a sale fare that I stacked with the AARP $400 discount and that I stacked with a further discount so I was paying less than coach. I got fantastic value for money with this product.

But I would take American Airlines business class on any new or reconfigured aircraft over British Airways. This is important because the two carriers have a revenue-sharing joint venture and serve some of the same routes like New York – London and Los Angeles – London.

I would also choose Delta business class and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class over BA’s Club World. (It’s not even a question of course when it comes to airlines like Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and EVA Air.)

On the other hand there are still angled business seats on some Air France routes. And I can at least see an argument for why some might prefer British Airways over United and similar 2-2-2 configurations which – while offering more generous space – require the person in the window to climb over the passenger in the aisle seat. BA, at least, staggers seats such that when they climb over a passenger it’s really just that passenger’s feet. It’s an awkward dance to be sure, but one that provides more privacy and that can be done without the other passenger getting up or having to wake them up.

Boarding and Initial Impressions

To reach the flight I had to take a train out to the satellite pier of Heathrow’s terminal 5. While it’s a schlepp, there’s no additional security check and it’s not a bus gate.

Traveling with so many people out to the gate was, in some sense, good preparation for flying British Airways Club World. It did, however, provide for some awesome sights.

Boarding at gate C60 became something of a zoo, but I happened to be towards the front of the queue which is something I like to do because it’s best to take photos before the cabin fills up.

After checking boarding passes and passports we headed down the escalator (another escalator!) to the jetway.

British Airways 777 business class is a huge cabin, a sea of seats, and passengers were getting themselves boarded.

The Business Airways Business Class Seat

Seating on the Boeing 777 is 8-across, configured 2-4-2. They create privacy by staggering forward and backward seats with privacy dividers between seats.

The seat itself is very narrow.

There’s a foot rest / bed extension that folds forward and down.

You have a personal television that folds out and a storage drawer that opens at your feet.

But it does turn into a fully flat bed, albeit a narrow one. You will be sleeping on your side most likely (as I tend to do anyway).

The most private seats are the window seats, backward facing. The most spacious seats, fully exposed, are aisle seats. For a couple traveling together I like an aisle and window although you aren’t really ‘together’.

Traveling alone I would choose between those seats as well, though my first choice would be a forward facing aisle for spaciousness.

If you want to be truly close, take backward-facing middle-of-the-middle seats. Frankly I would hate to have these seats with someone I wasn’t already intimate with.

The seats are surprisingly private. There is a little bit of space where the footrest/bed extension folds down that you climb over to get in and out of the window seats. And the seats do keep you from seeing most of people most of the time, except for their feet.

Dining and Amenities

My seat had a blanket, headphones, and a pillow.

The pillow was among the thinnest I’ve seen. On a flight that isn’t full you may want to grab a second from an empty seat.

Here’s the menu: (Click to enlarge)

There’s no special features to the lavatories, they are similar in-kind to domestic aircraft. Still I managed to change into pajamas I had brought with me (American Airlines pajamas, actually).

Once in the air I began with some water and packaged snack.

Amenity kits were distributed.

Shortly after takeoff meal service began. There’s an appetizer and a salad, and those were served separately from the main course. While flight attendants were friendly, the service quality is limited by the seat. They would pass all food over the passenger in the aisle to reach me in the window. It’s a bit awkward.

We were given chocolates, shrink-wrapped.

I ordered the beef for my main, and it was fine if somewhat overdone.

I chose ice cream for dessert, notably not a sundae.

Didn’t get enough food? There are midflight snacks set up for self-service near the lavatories.

Prior to arrival there was an afternoon tea service.

Conclusion

There’s nothing remarkable about British Airways business class. I find the food and service to be fine Which is to say that staff will help you if you ask, though they have a lot to do. You can eat the food, there is enough so you do not need to be hungry during the flight, although there isn’t anything to really look forward to.

You get a fully flat bed, and that’s the unique selling proposition. So if BA is cheaper, or has the better schedule, it’s perfectly fine. Though all things equal it’s clearly better to choose a carrier that offers a more spacious seat, direct aisle access, and ideally inflight internet.

For me though the price couldn’t have been beat. I even earned a 25,000 mile transatlantic premium cabin bonus for the trip.

And it’s absolutely lovely to land off of a long haul flight and be home in Austin. After a very short walk from the gate and a quick trip through immigration and customs, I was curbside in minutes.

British Airways has the only transatlantic flight that lets me do that, at least until Condor starts Frankfurt service this summer.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. C’mon folks, BA biz class is far ahead of economy hell on any airline. That is what you need to be comparing BA biz to. I am deathly afraid of being stuck in the back of the bus.

    Btw, I have been on Delta biz to and through South America and I really wonder where they get off calling that Business Class. They are just crowded/cramped little seats.
    Tempus Fugit. I’m old enough to remember when flying was actually gracious. Now, I always think to myself, shut up and enjoy anything you can. And one thing to enjoy is NOT economy.

  2. Maybe you should compare this with business class on United from Hawaii to San Francisco. No lie down seat, just a wider than usual seat with a bit more leg room. Not very pleasant when flying overnight. I’ll take the BA business class any day and be grateful.

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