British Airways didn’t have a good reputation for their business class cabin over the past few years. The Oneworld alliance member might have been among the first ones to offer lie-flat seats to its customers. But after two decades without any major changes, their product was more than just a little outdated. Consequently, many travelers have been looming forward to a reconditioned business class. And now, British Airways is finally delivering: the all-new Club Suite is here.
Travel-Dealz founder Johannes and our editor Patrick had the chance to test it on board of an Airbus A350-1000 on their way from Madrid to London. And here’s a little spoiler: it was definitely worth the wait!
Compared to competitors like Qatar Airways and its QSuite or United Airlines and their Polaris product, the old British Airways business class felt like a product from times long past. A 2-3-2 layout like you’ll find it on many aircraft sounds more like economy. And the fact that you have to become a circus artist and climb over other passengers if you want to reach the aisle from your windows seat also doesn’t scream “premium”. But that’s water under the bridge. With its new business class, British Airways made a step forward. And a huge one, indeed.
We like to ensure a high degree of transparency. That’s why we want to inform you that we booked our flights with Avios and cash. Also, we did not notify British Airways about our plans for writing a review.
Johannes and I were traveling with hand luggage only. Therefore we did not need to visit a check-in counter before going through security. It was no problem to get our digital boarding passes and also the seat selection worked fine on our computer or through the app. So far, no big changes due to a new business class product.
Unfortunately, this is also true for seat reservations. Not even business class passengers get to choose their seat for free before check-in starts for the flight. Only members of a Oneworld frequent flyer program who hold elite status are entitled to that privilege. We wouldn’t mind if the airline changed this process to one that is more customer-friendly. But nevertheless: both of us had been able to choose a window seat during check-in the evening before.
Since we flew from Madrid to London, we were able to visit the Velázquez Premium Lounge, that Iberia operates in Terminal 4S. The selection of food and beverages was great, and the lounge really doesn’t leave a lot of room for improvement. Of course, this has very little to do with British Airways or their new business class product. That’s why we will post an extended report of the lounge soon.
To make the process of boarding as efficient as possible, British Airways divides passengers into 5 different groups. Each one of those groups gets to enter the aircraft at a different time. As business class customers, we’ve been assigned Boarding Group 1. A very long line-up at the gate left us a little bemused since we hadn’t expected so many business class passengers on our flight. As it turned out, many travelers just didn’t check their boarding pass or the group number and just lined up anywhere. So, in the end, we were able to embark the brand new Airbus A350-1000 rather fast.
Cabin & Comfort
If you’ve never been on board of an Airbus A350 – like this has been the case for me – you might be excited about the cabin. Especially in the front, where the business class can be found, everything feels really roomy. The huge windows add to that airy character.
But the aircraft itself was not the main highlight, of course. The new seats took that spot. An up-to-date 1-2-1 layout finally allows every passenger to access the aisle directly from any seat. No climbing over strangers anymore. And that’s only one thing that British Airways changed.
The so-called Reverse-Herringbone configuration offers a lot of privacy to all passengers, to begin with. Nothing that one could compare to the old Club World product where you had to exchange awkward looks with strangers during take-off and landing. But British Airways tried to top that experience by adding a sliding door to every seat that will shield you off even more, once closed. You can see where the name Club Suite comes from.
As a side note: All seats have the same design and space, there are no disadvantages or advantages when choosing a particular seats unlike with SWISS or Lufthansa‘s new business class. Sure, the two seats in the middle are probably not the first pick for people traveling on their own. But due to a screen that can also be closed during take-off and landing, you can make sure that you’ll enjoy your flight in peace. If you manage to pick a window seat, the back of your fellow passengers’ heads will be all you can see anyways.
The seat itself is really comfortable and has several options to adjust it to your needs. Three buttons offer you settings for the take-off and landing position as well as for some a sort of relax-position and the lie-flat position. If that’s not enough, you can always use the small screen that makes the seat and the leg rest infinitely variable.
What really convinced us of the new Club Suites quality was the sleeping function. Neither Johannes nor I am what you would call short (I am just a little under 1.90m tall). And both of us had absolutely no problem to stretch out on the fully flat seat. But that’s no big surprise if you take a look at the stats: 200 cm length. That’s British Airways’ official measurement for the seat when turned into a bed. The engineers apparently put some thought into space for your feet, since these won’t feel cramped at all. Therefore we’d say that the new seat works fine for people sleeping on their back or their side. For what it’s worth: the transformation from seat to bed takes only about 15 seconds. So you won’t have to press the control very long before being able to fall asleep.
You can close the door to your own private suite only during the flight. For security reasons, it will be locked by a crewmember during take-off and landing. In case there is any kind of problem with the door’s functionality, British Airways had an emergency handle build in.
Another significant improvement can be found around the actual seat: storage space. Travelers that had the pleasure of flying the old Club World will be aware of the problem. There just wasn’t enough space to stow your personal belongings. Only a small compartment for newspapers and magazines isn’t enough, especially on long-haul flights. The new Club Suite, on the other hands, offers some places where you can store smaller items during your trip. There are two small storage compartments next to your armrest.
One of them is rather flat and could be used for your phone or your wallet. While the other one is slightly bigger, unfortunately it is still not suitable for your laptop, but more likely for your e-reader. Also, the larger compartment holds the remote control for the in-flight entertainment system, a power outlet and two USB sockets which can be used to charge your electronic devices. So you probably don’t want to stuff other things in there. A nice feature was the opening mechanism: unlike other similar compartments, the ones in the Club Suite can only be opened by pressing a button and not by applying pressure to the top. So they won’t open 100 times during your flight just because you rested your arm on them.
If you’re looking for more space, there’s a bottle holder and also a small locker-type of storage that you will find next to you. The latter was big enough to hold the headphones which British Airways provides to its passengers. Also, there is a small vanity mirror built into it. Perfect, if you don’t want to visit the lavatories to e.g., adjust your fancy haircut before landing. And then there is the space under your footrest that you can use for larger items. Such as a bag or your shoes. And you can store things there even during take-off and landing.
If you want to work or you’re hungry and are thinking of having a nice snack, you will need a table. In BA’s Club Suite this one comes out from under the monitor in front of you. Pull it out to bring it close to you and then unfold it to get the maximum of space. There are two different position settings for the table.
The one setting is closer towards you and obviously for when you would like to eat or work. The other one will bring the table further away from you and comes in handy if you want to get up during a meal or without moving your laptop. Unfortunately, the table doesn’t feel super solid. Also, you can’t adjust the height. So if you moved your seat down to a position that is more relaxing, the table may feel a bit too high if you want to use your computer on it.
British Airways came up with an excellent solution for the belt-problem. Instead of adding an airbag as you’ll often see in business class, there is a 3-point-belt system in place. Once you’re in the air you only have to use the standard belt, the one strapped over your shoulder is only necessary during take-off and landing. This really increases the feeling of comfort during your trip. You can stay safe and still have enough space. Especially if you want to sleep, this system wins over the airbag one.
Entertainment & WiFi
We’ll start with the best news: finally, British Airways has a gate-to-gate system for business class passengers. While the old Club World was equipped with fold-out displays that had to be stowed away for take-off, landing, and even taxi, there is now a built-in 18.5″ touchscreen to be found. You can also control it with the remote that you’ll find in one of the small compartments if you don’t want to use your fingers.
The selection of entertainment programs was solid. We counted over 50 new releases and at least 20 TV shows featuring one whole season or more. A very nice detail was the “Celebrate BA 100” section. In honor of British Airways’ 100th birthday, the airline offers a list of movies produced in the UK. If you wanted some information about your flight, there was a flight map but unfortunately no outside cameras.
If you decide to enjoy the beautiful selection of shows, movies or music, you can use the noise-canceling headphones that BA’s provides. Sadly, this is not a new product, but the one that the airline has been using for years now. And the age wouldn’t be a major problem if the noise canceling effect would at least keep some sound from coming to your ears. We couldn’t help but think that the headphones didn’t match the rest of the very modern business class product. That’s definitely a point for improvement. British Airways could score by providing some up-to-date technology here.
On-board of the A350-1000, British Airways is now offering WiFi. There was no voucher of some sort for business class passengers that would have allowed us to test the speed during our flight. The airline charges according to the MB you use. Here’s what we would have paid:
What really amazed us was the fact that British Airways promotes the WiFi as suitable for watching Netflix. Now, maybe speed-wise you’ll be fine. But how many seconds of an HD movie could you watch with just 150 MB of data? Most people would probably be very disappointed if they pay for that £18 package in order to stream movies.
Service & Catering
Our flight was a short-haul trip between Madrid and London’s Heathrow airport that the airline primarily operates for training purposes. So we haven’t been able to test the catering under real long-haul conditions. But still: the flight time was just under two hours, and we were handed a small menu with three different choices for the main course.
Johannes opted for the baked risotto, and I decided to try the Atlantic cod. Both dishes were served in a platable way, and we enjoyed our food.
The process for the food service was not the best. Members of the crew would ask every passenger for his or her meal and beverage choice and then go back to the alley to prepare everything right away before continuing with the next guest. While a procedure like this means longer waiting times for some passengers, you will apparently still find it in business class on board of many airlines nowadays. Unfortunately, even the drink service worked that way. So we had to wait for about an hour before we received a beverage. Since there had been no pre-departure drinks, my mouth felt somewhat dry by the time the meal was served. This will most likely work differently on long-haul flights, we assume.
All in all, the crew members – who were on board of the new aircraft for the first time as well – were very friendly and attentive. We had the impression that they were all super happy and proud of the new aircraft and the Club Suite.
- Check-in & Boarding
- Cabin & Comfort
Of course, it is a little tricky to review a product that is actually meant for long-haul flights on such a short trip. For example, we weren’t offered an amenity kit, nor did the crew provide blankets or mattress toppers that we could have tested. However, British Airways will be using the rather new The White Company products also in Club Suite. So there won’t be any significant changes. Also, our experience with the on-board service and the catering aren’t conclusive. But if it comes to the actual novelty – cabin and seat – we can definitely say that British Airways finally has an up-to-date business class product again. We would go as far as to say that the new BA business class is the best product that any European Airlines has to offer momentarily. And we are really looking forward to our first long-haul flight with the Club Suite.
Bonus: Approach to London Heathrow
We had great weather during our flight and even better views of London:
Bonus: A350 cockpit
Johannes always tires to get pics from the cockpit. And thanks to the friendly British Airway captain, this was no problem at all. Have a look:
We’d be happy to see you leave a comment if you have any questions or if we didn’t cover something that you are interested in!