One of the controversial views I hold in miles and points is that – as much as I believe fuel surcharges on award tickets are offensive and destructive – I will pay them when there’s good premium cabin award availability at a reasonable mileage price.
I’ve flown British Airways from Austin to London many, many times. There’s not a lot of non-stop transatlantic service from Austin! Lufthansa and KLM offer non-daily flights (and KLM’s service is new), while BA operates every day and saver award availability has often been great – for first class when they’ve flown Boeing 777s and 747s on the route, and for new business class suites now that it’s consistently an Airbus A350.
And since I need to connect to pretty much anywhere (other than London) that I’m going in Europe, and domestic saver awards are often harder to get than international ones, I’d frequently need to buy a domestic connecting flight and travel on separate tickets if I wasn’t redeeming for BA. That means I’d have cost and risk if I avoided the fuel surcharges.
- Bear in mind that you can pay lower surcharges booking through Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (an Amex, Citi, Capital One and Bilt transfer partner) than through BA itself or American Airlines
- And booking two one-ways entails lower surcharges, since tickets originating in Europe pay less.
British Airways business class is… fine, I guess? Their new business class is a vast improvement over their old one – four abreast seating (fully flat, direct aisle access, doors that aren’t very tall) compared to eight abreast on the 777 with middle-of-middle cuddle seats and stepping over neighbors.
The new seat itself is fine, and quite stylish, but a bit hard and their much touted bedding isn’t thick enough to change that. The food, too, is improved compared to a year ago but still not very good. And service is mixed at best as always.
The thing though is that BA offers a business class that’s perfectly competitive across the Atlantic. Who is clearly better (except, arguably, for niche routes like Singapore Airlines from Houston to Manchester and New York JFK to Frankfurt)?
From start to finish, a recent Austin – London Heathrow flight connecting on to Paris Charles de Gaulle was consistently ok.
We checked in as usual, and BA’s counters are at the very end of the terminal near the main security checkpoint.
British Airways premium cabin passengers have access to the American Airlines Admirals Club, which I have access to as a member, but it’s about 20 gates away from the flight. I opted to go to the nearby Chase Sapphire Terrace even though it was a bit dreary and chilly outside and there’s almost no indoor seating. It was still a decent place to wait for the flight. They were out of most of the food items in their vending machine while I was there.
Boarding proceeded on time, and we entered the massive business class cabin on the Airbus A350 with 56 enclosed suites. The seats are attractively designed but note that the doors are pretty low height meaning what they mostly provide is privacy from other passengers who may be laying down, and a sense of privacy in that they keep you from seeing other passengers.
I had row 1 and the first thing I noticed was that the cabin wasn’t clean, even though we were among the first to board.
Menus were distributed for the flight:
I do think the British Airways logo at the front of the cabin is a nice touch, and the blue is quite attractive.
To use the lavatory at the front of the cabin requires walking past the galley and it is a tight space that’s been known as a factor which has limited catering. During meal service crew will often block it off so they can work. I’ve been on flights where it’s been blocked off for the entirety of the flight, so that they wouldn’t be bothered, but that wasn’t the case this time.
The lavatory up front was fairly standard:
For meal service, both the shrimp appetizer and salmon main were perfectly fine. Catering is certainly improved compared to when they were doing a single tray affair surprisingly late into Covid. Cheese and dessert were both offered (at the same time, some most selected one or the other).
I didn’t sleep much of the flight, and found the seat quite hard even with what they consider to be a (thin) mattress pad. But it was a huge improvement over the seats BA used to fly (and still does on some aircraft).
Prior to arrival they offered a breakfast sandwich, fruit and a croissant which were all fine – and I suppose even a little bit better than standard U.S. airline reheated scrambled eggs. I do wish they had boarded proper cream for coffee rather than only non-fat. Its cuts the bad flavor better.
We made good time and landed half an hour early. We took the train in from remote gates to clear transit immigration and security, and made it through those formalities in an impressive-for-Heathrow 15 minutes. Then we headed to the main lounge complex, not yet knowing which gate we’d depart out of for Paris (and it wasn’t one I’d left from in the past).
I’d only just lost my ConciergeKey status from American which would have granted me access to the Concorde Room with two guests. I was a business class passenger with oneworld emerald status. That status only entitles me to a single lounge guest, and I was traveling with both my wife and four year old daughter. I’ve entered the BA Galleries First lounge with my wife and daughter before (and she’s counted as a guest since age two) but on this visit they refused, correctly sending us to the business lounge next door.
It was then back to remote gates for Paris. In the past my Paris flights have all been from close-in gates, but this wasn’t posted until just prior to boarding.
British Airways short haul is always a surprise to customers used to traveling within the U.S. Business class (Club Europe) doesn’t have more legroom than economy. In fact it has less legroom than Ryanair. But it (usually) offers a blocked middle seat, alcohol, and a meal.
While meal service has been expanded on long haul, short haul catering had seen some cutbacks and crew were discussing how much easier it is to serve so little. In a separate cutback they’ve also eliminated individual champagne splits for customers who would like to drink bubbles.
For a flight to Paris this was all fine. But there’s nothing whatsoever impressive about the experience. The new seat is (and has been) a vast improvement over the old one, and business class is mostly about the seat and personal space compared to other cabins. But nothing else was memorable about the experience at all, which is a bit of a shame. I was still grateful to be able to purchase it at deep discount using my miles of course!