Review: British Airways Club Suites, Austin – London

A few days ago I flew Austin – London Heathrow – Paris Charles de Gaulle with my wife and toddler. I booked award tickets because I wanted the flexibility of a full last-minute refund. And I booked British Airways because of award availability and the ability to take a transatlantic flight straight from our home town. (There’s non-daily Lufthansa to Frankfurt and KLM to Amsterdam as well, neither of which were available at respectable rates on our date.)

We departed Austin during South By Southwest (or ‘South By’ as locals call it) and at the start of UT Austin Spring Break. The airport was nuts, and reaching the premium check-in lines for British Airways which are the first two check-in counters at the end of the terminal meant going outside the airport and back in the final door because it was impossible to cut through densely packed TSA screening lines.

Check-in was taking some time because passengers connecting beyond Heathrow to Europe hadn’t filled out their European locator forms online in advance, and were being sent out of line to do so on their smartphones before returning to check in. Modern travel is complicated by ever-changing forms and procedures, but it is incumbent on the traveler to look those up and sort them in advance.

My check-in was uneventful, security was quick – lines were long in the regular queue but none at all for CLEAR and for PreCHeck – and we headed to the lounge. British Airways uses the American Airlines Admirals Club at Austin airport. BA passengers are treated better than club members. They used to get anything offered for sale on the menu free, but now food items are limited and the premium drinks are off limits.

Moreover, for a seamless joint business venture I’m a bit surprised by the signage for this:

Anticipated boarding was announced in the lounge an hour prior to departure, since British Airways departs gate 2 – a 20 gate walk from the club. We left around 50 minutes out, and while the flight still showed on time we actually took an hour-long catering delay. Everyone was queueing to board.

No one made any announcements at the gate. Eventually about 20 minutes after scheduled boarding an announcement was made about a “short delay due to operational reasons.”

Once on board the Airbus A350 we settled into our suites. The new Club Suite seat is attractive, and the BA logo at the front is actually gorgeous. But it’s an absolute sea of business class suites that stretches seemingly without end. That’s why I picked row one. You look forward and don’t see everybody else. That makes it feel like a more intimate and less claustrophobic experience.

I had a closer look at the suite. It’s basically the ‘Super Diamond’ seat that American Airlines has been using for five years, with more attention to detail and a door added on. The storage compartments were showing their wear already on my seat, having difficulty closing. But there were several compartments.

The door though isn’t very tall. It is fine when you’re in sleeping position to limit interaction but don’t expect a high-walled suite like some first class cabins offer.

At the seat was an amenity kit, menu, and package of blanket and mattress pad to accompany a pillow. The amenity kit’s socks, toothbrush and pen were appreciated. I’d have liked mouthwash and slippers, personally, so that I wouldn’t need to put my shoes back on when heading to the lavatory.

Dinner was a choice of beef, salmon, or vegetable risotto. Here’s the drink list.

I began with a cointreau to start the flight. It was already after 8 p.m. and felt comfortable. It was served with packaged nuts. I miss the old BA heated nuts, because their candied cashews were phenomenal. These were uninspired.

Dinner was a single tray service with cheese and dessert courses left covered. I actually appreciate a quick service on an overnight flight, but there was nothing quick about the service despite not offering it in courses. The large cabin meant that deploying trays by hand seemed to take ages, and it was well over two hours into the flight before cabin lights were turned off.

In a sense we had the worst of all worlds – no decent meal in the lounge before the flight so facilitate sleeping right away, a single tray service that didn’t mean a quick meal pace either. If it’s going to take this long I expect something a bit more elaborate, or find a way to take advantage of single tray to deliver meals quickly. (I do recognize the challenges the flight crew faces with the compact galley on the A350s – BA traded space to store food and prepare service for an additional row of seats.)

Catering out of Austin is quite poor. I don’t put that entirely on BA. There are only 3 long haul departures and not a robust premium catering infrastructure. Most of Austin’s catering is for American Airlines domestic first class. In fact catering on my connecting flight within Europe was better. I trust that they’re serving marginally better food in long haul business class on routes out of larger international stations.

After the meal I laid down for a bit of a rest. The White Company pillow and mattress were quite good, but the mattress pad was almost nothing and I found the seat itself a bed firm for sleeping. So I ultimately used the blanket as a mattress. A second sheet would have been nice.

No pajamas are offered in business class, but I find I rest better in comfortable clothes so I brought a ten year old pair of American Airlines first class pajamas on the flight. (For my return trip on another carrier I brought a pair of United Polaris PJs.)

I didn’t get up to check out the snacks in the galley. That’s a function both of not being hungry so late and before breakfast, and also that cabin crew clearly didn’t want the disturbance of passengers around. In fact they set up the forward lavatory door to show occupied throughout the flight even though nobody was in it, and sent passengers who approached to wait for it to the back of the cabin. One kind flight attendant let my wife bring our daughter into that lavatory, since we were in row 1.

Breakfast was standard British Airways, and I opted for the British breakfast although I’m not a fan of what passes for sausage although I do appreciate the hash brown. Here was the menu:

And the brekfast:

Beyond the seat, and having a non-stop flight to Europe from Austin, the other positive for the flight is BA’s fast internet service. It worked consistently well, at good speed. It was obviously not Panasonic!

We wound up making up about 35 minutes of our delay and landed into Heathrow 25 minutes late. After parking at our gate, the crew announced that we had to stay in our seats and they would deplane by rows. BA is still hewing to their Covid procedure of announcing which rows could get up to take items out of overhead bins to reduce congestion in the aisles.

There were two things rather odd about this. First, though all of business class was invited to get up first, business passengers were specifically admonished not to get up when the seat belt sign went off and instead to wait the 3 to 4 seconds until being asked to get up. Second, flights arriving at bus gates have passengers held back for deplaining in order to crowd into a bus – and loading the bus takes longer as a result, so they’re packed together onboard for even more time this way.

Though fast track was announced on board, fast track connections was closed. Connecting security is always a mess at Heathrw but even more so without priority queueing.

Club Europe (business class) on the connection is of course Ryanair legroom with a blocked middle seat.

Catering though was tastier and fresher than my two meals on the long haul flight in business although it’s time for BA to change up their selection.

Ultimately a much-improved seat and fast internet make British Airways business class an excellent way to cross the Atlantic. Cabin crew service and meals though needed a lot of work. Delay communication should have been much better as well.

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. Why are items highlighted on the airport club menu? Nothing decent there to eat?

  2. An honest report on a mediocre airline and experience (at best).

    For this I should spend hours playing the game?

    To repeat the question above, what program did you book this through? What were the YQ?

  3. I recently flew the new Biz class LHR-LAS on a 777. Food was very good, service excellent, and the new seats a delight.

    A flight attendant told me she prefers Boeing Aircraft to AB 350, since Boeing has larger galleys, which probably makes for a happier crew.

    I generally try to book premium economy and upgrade to BIZ for miles. At 30.000 miles each way, it is excellent value for money.

  4. And what’s this with the F/A’s blocking the forward lav so they wouldn’t be disturbed. That needs to stop and should have been reported to BA. Is this common on the A350 aircraft business class?

  5. Look like BA is trying to mimic One World big brother AA and doing an excellent job. At best stateside handling sure reflects this.

  6. Good report and informative.
    I use AUS as a frequent alternative to SAT because of flight schedule logistics for international travel.
    Will be on this flight next month to LHR and connecting on BA to WAW.
    Was wondering if the flight was packed full in Club World, and curious if you observed if that was the case in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus?
    Thanks.

  7. Okay thanks so much! That’s what I thought from what I’ve been hearing.
    The nonstop BA daily service from AUS to LHR is the only option for all of the South Texas/Austin/San Antonio corridor.

  8. Call me Admirals Club naive, but the one and only time I flew Biz out of PHL there was no cost to eat at the Club. Is this new (post Covid) or specific to AUS? I normally fly Skyteam and this is sort of mind boggling.

  9. and how far out did you book these tickets? Seems almost impossible to use CX miles these days

  10. Thanks for the report. I’m trying to book as many BA business class flights as possible, though sometimes you’re going to wind up with AA.

    FWIW, booking business class through BA (or Iberia or Finnair) rather than American is worth more LPs, often more than twice as many.

    Also, booking business class from Europe to North America and back is considerably cheaper than the reverse. You can often book business class for the price of premium economy from North America to Europe. Example, right now you can book DUB-LHR-JFK and return for $1475, all BA metal. Book that on BA and it’s worth 17,928 LPs, plus another 1,475 if you use an AA card. You can also go to MIA for roughly the same price (worth 22,408 LPs booking through BA), but you’ll be on AA. Yes, I’ll need to book my own flights to New York or Miami, but it’s considerably cheaper than the extra $2500+ that I would be charged to my flyover city. And even then it’s not always the case, I booked a double open-jaw from Sardinia to New York (Sept) and Dallas to Barcelona (Dec) for $1500 in business. You could even get to Bismarck, ND for under $2000, as long as you return to somewhere in Spain, including Palma.

    A couple of other observations – you usually can’t start from LHR or CDG due to taxes on business fares, but you can connect. So taking a cheap flight to DUB and starting from there can save a lot. The real key here is positioning yourself in Europe first, then planning one trip ahead. (I used miles to get to Europe cheaply one-way.)

  11. Unacceptable catering for a long haul flight- Austin isn’t the excuse here – that’s a pitiful quantity for what should be a multi course service. Not acceptable.

    I wonder if the A350 galley situation may be behind it – but time for the FAs to keep a stiff lip, and carry on in the British way

  12. @aggiemd the club has some modest comimentary items and also food for sale, some of which BA premium cabin passengers get comimentary

  13. Is flying out from DFW on BA better with respects to meals? That food from AUS is unacceptable as is the blocking of the forward lavatory.

  14. Wow – a trip report from Mr. Leff! Awesome!

    Personally, I like to be able to see people around me during the flight, but maybe that’s just me. So I tend to book closer to the end of a respective cabin rather than at the very front. Besides, that usually means more time to work on the cocktails before the dinner cart rolls by. 🙂

    Either way, although I myself live in Calif. (SFO), I’m happy to see that AUS is getting some love, including transatlantic service. I wonder if SAT could see anything like that in the future too.

    Happy return travels!

  15. @Gary – I was excited about the BA Club suites/availability until I saw the airport taxes were running $200 more than first-class ($1793 from SFO-LHR in First vs. $1993 in Business). Really?!
    Do you have any insight into how these taxes are calculated? $200 more and no PJs.

  16. The worst thing in that report was that “Fast Track Connections was closed”

    Connecting at Heathrow is a horrible cluster-shambles at the best of times, and with no fast track you’re likely to miss your connection – especially with BA’s spiteful attitude to latecomers, their computer randomly decides you’ll be too late to get on and throws you off the flight.

  17. @Gary – The challenge with AUS catering is LSG Sky Chefs struggle to attract and pay culinary leadership in this market. Hopefully, they will find an Executive Chef that is able to maintain a high standard of quality. This will become more and more important as additional international airlines join the AUS bandwagon. The size of the hot kitchen was tiny a few years ago and the overall facility was meant for a 50 flight per day domestic operation. The increased AA flying and international business has surely put a strain on the limited resources.

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