In (Partial) Defense Of British Airways Club World

A few weeks ago I took a quick weekend trip to Milan on a combination of British Airways and American flights. While I’ve flown British Airways first class on several occasions, I hadn’t previously experienced the business class “Club World” cabin. I was also able to book directly out of San Diego, so was doubly excited.

This was the same fare deal Ben and Ford took advantage of over their Thanksgiving trip, and while I don’t doubt their Club World experience at all, mine was rather different, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

The fare

As you may recall, British Airways had a fantastic sale last October, with business class tickets to several cities in Europe selling for ~$1400. This was stackable with the Chase and AARP discounts, so was quite the deal.

I generally like to take advantage of deals when I can take longer trips, but the combination of redeemable miles (including the transatlantic bonus) and getting a jump on 2016 Executive Platinum qualification was too tempting. I was only able to sneak in a weekend in January, but some gelato is better than no gelato, really.

All in, I paid $1009.15 for the roundtrip business class tickets, and earned the following miles:

  • 28,830 redeemable miles
  • 25,000 bonus redeemable miles from the transatlantic promo
  • 20,044 elite-qualifying miles

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A very convenient routing, shockingly

The lounge

I live about six minutes from the San Diego airport, which isn’t at all busy in the late evenings, so I left my apartment at 6:30PM. By 6:45PM I was through security and in the lounge, so we were off to a great start.

British Airways (and American, and JAL) uses the Airspace Lounge in San Diego. There’s a separate menu for BA passengers, which basically consists of the same things that are usually on offer, but without a charge. British Airways passengers get a stamp on a Post-It to use as a voucher of sorts.

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An odd system, but it works

I wasn’t particularly hungry, so had a bowl of soup along with a gin and tonic while I did exciting work things like syncing my email so I could draft responses offline. Very glamorous lives we lead here at OMAAT.

Boarding was scheduled to begin at 7:20PM, and despite the gate areas in San Diego being designed to manage a 737-worth of passengers, the scene wasn’t too chaotic.

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British Airways boarding area in San Diego

As is fitting for a flight to London Heathrow Terminal 5, the jet bridge was about a mile long. I basically walked back home before seeing the plane.

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I didn’t even know we had jet bridges this long!

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The biggest plane at SAN

The crew

From the moment I stepped on board I could tell the crew was going to be phenomenal. The Customer Service Manager was stationed at the door, and welcomed each business class passenger, prior to passing them off to a colleague who then escorted everyone to their seats.

If you haven’t experienced it, boarding Club World is a little chaotic. With the eight-across configuration everyone is Tetris-ed in, so there’s a lot of shuffling as folks store their belongings. The lack of storage space at the individual seats exacerbates the situation, and it seemed like everyone was in and out of the overhead bins about four times.

As things settled down, a delightful flight attendant came around and warmly addressed each passenger with an enthusiastic “Welcome to Club World!” and a selection of beverages. She clearly loved her job, which is such a refreshing attitude.

In fact, all the Cabin Crew I interacted with seemed equally excited to be onboard and assisting passengers. Even though I was in the window seat the crew never passed things to me over the divider, instead taking a few steps into the seating area to deliver drinks and trays.

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This divider stayed up the entire flight

I assume this is the proper way to service Club World, and that most crews just don’t bother, as I’ve heard lots of complaints from others. So this is a clear point of difference, and seems like an easy way to improve the Club World experience.

I was also blown away when I walked through the galley mid-flight. I’m used to being ignored by crew in the galley – it’s their space, and I don’t really need anything anyway, but the flight attendant on duty jumped out of her seat to ask about my flight experience thus far and offer drinks.

On a Western airline. In business class.

Unexpected, and quite impressive.

So the crew was just all-around fantastic, and hit that perfect blend of fun and chipper while still being professional and polished. They made the flight.

The cabin

The color palette on the 777-200 is different from the other British Airways planes, and features creamy taupe tones rather than the gray scheme on the 747 and A380.

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Hospital chic by night

This wasn’t particularly appealing in the evening – the mood lighting made everything look a bit washed out and dingy – but the concept made much more sense in the morning. With natural light streaming in, the light colors with soft blue accents gave the cabin a fresh, modern mid-century vibe, which I really liked.

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Modern minimalist by day

I also loved the drum shade in the center of the cabin. That alone made the space feel less like 16 people were packed into an area that should probably have had 12 at most, so that was a nice touch.

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I might just like it because it’s unnecessary?

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This is still a lot of people in a small space

The catering

The food on this flight was another pleasant surprise. I’ve had hit and miss experiences even in First on BA, so went in with low expectations for the Club World catering.

The menu was as follows:

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I started with a gin and tonic, and I have to say, having not only FeverTree but Light tonic is a great offering. Smart, too, as even crummy gin is better with the right tonic. Similarly to when Ben flew Club World, I was given gin and tonic ingredients rather than a composed cocktail, but everything was presented purposefully, and it didn’t seem abrupt or rude at all.

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Now if BA would just improve the gin offering itself…

Attitude makes all the difference.

I chose the asparagus as a starter, which was served alongside a salad. Both were quite good!

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Club World starter and salad

I took a risk with the mains and selected the fish, and oh my gosh it was good. The cod was moist and flaky, and the risotto was light while still being creamy. One of the top five fish dishes I’ve had on any airline, in any class of service.

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Club World cod and risotto

For dessert I had the fondant, which was the just the right size and not too sweet.

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Club World dessert

I’m not a huge breakfast person, so in the morning I had a bowl of fruit and a croissant, and a truly terrible cup of coffee.

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Love a fruit plate that has berries rather than just insipid melon slices

But on balance, the food selections were impressive.

The seat

Let me be blunt. The Club World seat is problematic.

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Cramped, or cozy?

I was in 11K, which is one of the best seats in Club World. The position of the cabin divider means you don’t have to deal with anyone else’s feet, and generally feels less like a block in a human game of Jenga than the other seats in the cabin. And being in the mini-cabin is always nice.

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The seat itself is narrow though, the footrest is complicated and not really useful (I’m 5’7”, and my toes could only just reach when I had my seat in a normal position), there’s almost no storage, the TV screens are tiny and ancient-looking, and my power outlet didn’t work.

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Plenty of legroom though

That being said, I felt like it was very private. I think this is almost entirely due to the location of my seat, and that the crew left the divider up for the entire flight. If either of those things had been different, I would probably have been borderline-twitchy from the feeling of exposure.

I have heard that the center rear-facing seats are equally private-feeling if you’re traveling as a couple, but I can’t imagine the forward-facing seats to be pleasant at all.

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Being in kissing distance of strangers is still weird

As it was, I felt like I had a little cocoon, and slept very well. Even with the useless pillow I slept for a solid six hours, which is about as much as I sleep at home.

So I can’t say the seat was entirely horrible, because I did sleep, and that’s really the main goal of business class. But it wasn’t comfortable for sitting or lounging, and I felt like I had stuff everywhere all the time.

Bottom line

Club World had everything going for it on this flight. I had the best seat, a phenomenal crew, and really impressive catering.

This was truly the best Club World could possibly be, and I enjoyed my flight.

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The views helped, for sure

But my final verdict is that British Airways needs to step it up. The hard product just isn’t competitive with what other carriers are offering in the transatlantic market, and that’s the reliable portion of Club World – crews and catering don’t make up for a very narrow seat and generally dated setup. And if the crews and catering are off, Club World really has nothing to offer.

If you’re looking to travel business class from Southern California to London, I’d rank British Airways a distant third behind American and Virgin Atlantic (which I think are basically tied in a “depends on what you value more” kind of way). In other markets you have even more options, so while I’d be happy to book Club World again, it would be more because of schedule than an active interest in the product.

Have you flown British Airways business class? Where was your flight on the service spectrum?

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. I’d put them fourth now having tried Air New Zealand recently.

    Still as a Brit there is something just so about that tail and feeling like you are home as soon as you step aboard.

    I don’t mind the seat as such, but accept they are the poor relation behind others. I find the service more consistent than American and even poor crew streets ahead. I will never forget trying to ask for a cup of tea on American to be greeted with “ask someone else”!!

  2. Good lord, a slightly more balanced review of British Airways J product on One Mile At A Time. It’s been a long time coming. Thank you Tiffany.

    Quick point of info, I believe your seat must have been 11K (window) rather than 11J (Aisle) if your photos are anything to go buy. Also, part of the reason the were probably able to deliver food without lowering the divider is that you were at the end of the cabin and in one of the few window seats that have direct aisle access, rather than that being the norm.

    Glad you enjoyed the Fever Tree Tonic, a classy addition IMO. Tbh I prefer Tanqeray to Bombay Sapphire (which most other airlines serve) YMMV.

  3. You were lucky Tiffany. I hate the hard product with the constant clattering of those dividers going up and down. We asked one flight attendant not to do it, but to come around (like all the other attendants did), but she said ‘no’ she couldn’t as it was a health and safety issue (?). BA Club World is one of the only classes where I have come across truly inedible food too. My parter has banned me from booking BA despite their deep discounting of the Australia to UK route.

    A UK friend of mine who gets paid to travel on them regularly for work always upgrades to first even if he has to pay money. He agrees with Ben that BA first is the best business class in the sky!

  4. Bit confused here. You say you were in 11J, but looking at the pics and the seat map, it seems like you were in 11K. Which one is it? 🙂

  5. Tiffany

    I’m confused about which seat in which your were seated. You state 11J but your photos show a window seat — in addition 11J is not an isolated seat as 10K is inside of it. I’m guessing you meant 11K

  6. The interesting thing is that BA’s Club World is one of the most profitable Business Class cabins in the world, due to the high density seating. They can often charge slightly less than other carriers on a route, and earn a greater profit per flight.

    Add to that the frequency of flights from the East Coast to LHR – and the number of travelers who value that frequency – and BA doesn’t really have an incentive to “step it up” from the United States.

    The reality is that passengers who choose by product are fewer than one thinks, and the readers of this blog are exceptions. Most Business Class passengers don’t care about whether their seat is cutting edge – if it has legroom, and goes flat, it’ll do. BA knows this, which is why they’re in no rush to upgrade the product (although they do have plans to start, lest they lose market share in the long-term, which is what they REALLY care about)…

  7. British Airways offers a lot of flat seats and decent economy/premium economy seats from the East Coast to London at convenient frequencies. That alone wins them a lot of travelers (including myself). My favorite way to get to London on a reasonable fare is Premium Economy from JFK to LHR at 7 AM. Arrives at 7-8 PM, in-time for drinks and dinner.

  8. “Club World really has nothing to offer.”… Except frequent fare sales that put the price of business well below other carriers (because of the high density) and direct service to many cities not serviced by other TATL carriers (SAN, SJO, PHX, AUS and I’m sure there are others). You said it yourself, you slept very well. That is the idea behind business class, no?

  9. I can heartily recommend the Bloody Mary served at the Airspace lounge in SAN, it’s the best I’ve had in an airport lounge.

    The SAN/LHR flight is occasionally served with a 4 class plane sold as 3 class, so if your super lucky you can swing a first class seat with a business ticket, the service will still be regular J though. Either way the planes tend to be pretty old.

  10. @ Kilburnflyer — I prefer Tanqueray when lemons are stocked rather than limes, so no complaints there! I just think it’s interesting that airlines will offer nicer wines and spirits in premium cabins, but nearly always have crummy gin. Not trendy enough yet, I suppose.

  11. @ Notme — No. The fare was stackable with the promo in general but didn’t work on my tickets. I needed the overnight in New York on the return, so had to mix in some AA flights.

  12. I’m confused about the seat you had. You say 11J but this is not a window seat, which is shown in the pictures.

  13. @ Tom — Sure, but I think there are only four seats on the 777 in which I could have slept well. The forward-facing seats are all too exposed. The window seats that don’t have direct aisle access mean you’re contenting with someone else’s feet, and the center rear-facing seats would be horrible for solo travelers.

    So as I said, if you’re booking based on schedule, it’s a fine option, but if you’re from an area with choice, I’d choose the others. Especially from Southern California, as when BA offers fare sales they’re valid on American as well, and that business class product is markedly better. And you don’t have to gamble on getting a decent seat.

  14. Thanks for this review, Tiffany – I must say it came across as much more balanced than some of Ben’s in this cabin 😛

    I must say I find the seat pretty comfortable – I like being able to adjust the recline angle (rather than having to flip it over to turn it into a bed) and find the footrest excellent. I’m taller (at 6′), but did you make use of the different ‘Z’ (pronounced zed, not a US-style zee remember :D) settings on the foot stool? That should have enabled to to be easier to reach.

    I always go for a window seat and haven’t had many issues with the divider.

    Overall as others have said it permits business class at often prem economy prices so I’m pretty happy with it. Trying out AA on my next TATL though so will be interested to compare.

    Service-wise I’ve perhaps been lucky but always had pretty decent crews (some really stand out, others a bit more average, but all still decent).

  15. Maybe a little off topic but I am wondering where United would fall on your list — they only have 6 seats across in most planes (I know some of the older ones have 8 so that sucks….)

    Thanks Tiffany love reading your reviews and on balance I think this proves that given the right seat and a good crew BA offers a sometimes cheap and not unpleasant way to fly across the pond.

  16. My first-ever business class experience was in BA Club World in a rear-facing window seat and I liked it (having no other basis for comparison). I really value the privacy (pronounced the British way) it provides during the cruise phase of the flight. Plus my second-ever business class experience was in an AA 767 with angle-flat seats, so for a while I thought BA was as good as it gets.

    Was your flight with a mixed-fleet crew, or nah?

  17. Nice review. The crew in this varies between disintrest(or sadness) leaving sunny San Diego and joy from getting some vitamin D. Like you, I have now found BA to be much more pedestrian and if I can’t get the window seats with bulkhead, I am stuck with aisle seat, which seems very exposed. Being short, I hate trying a cirque move trying to get out to the restroom. The divider screens drive me crazy especially when they could come around at the bulkhead seat, and the attendants don’t put them back half the time. Food is good, not great. While I love the non stop and easy arrivals here in SAN, I have actually preferred the AA and NZ configurations and food, or even used UA [6 seat biz] instead requiring a connection. I was lucky on one flight with a 777-300ER sub with the new entertainment system. But usually older equipment.

  18. @Tiffany

    Customer Service Manager, duh.

    So mixed fleet then, well that probably explains a lot.

    In my defense I have cold, running nose and have tried to cure a sore throat with a bit to much Whiskey for the past 24 hours.

    So I might be bit impaired at the moment :-(((

  19. If you’re looking to travel business class from Southern California to London, I’d rank British Airways a distant third behind American and Virgin Atlantic (which I think are basically tied in a “depends on what you value more” kind of way).

    Where’s United LAX-LHR? (We’ll ignore NZ because good luck getting an award, though they might be an option too.)

  20. @ eponymous coward — Depends on the time of year, actually, but I think United would be the worst of the lot. In the off-season, United runs a 777-200, which is also 8-across, but it’s not even staggered. The Dreamliner configuration in summer is a bit better, but even that is still 2-2-2.

  21. @ BrooklynBoy — That’s a dangerous question 😉

    I’ll order Hendrick’s out, as it’s pretty accessible. At home we stock things like Tanqueray 10, Beefeater 24, and Aviation as basics, and then occasionally have an assortment of gins from smaller-batch distilleries. Those vary, as mainly I just like trying new combinations.

  22. The lounge cracks me up, with how they “give” you a $10 gift card, then charge you $11 for a glass of Mondavi wine that retails for $10 a bottle, or $8 for a Sculpin beer that retails for $2.33 a bottle. I seriously doubt a bar in the general terminal would charge more than $8 for a Sculpin. Very petty for those who used a cc for access, but for those who paid $25 for access that’s outrageous. 🙁

  23. Fantastic report. I am taking this flight in couple of days and really looking forward to it. Hopefully the crew is just as fab!

  24. flew BA CW over christmas JFK-LHR return and on both segments the crew (all rather senior worldwide attendants) were fantastic. super friendly and attentive. the seat itself is worn and a bit lumpy in spots but the center combo of seats are nice for privacy when flying together. all in all, as long as there are competitive fares and the aarp discount, it’s worth it to me for the relatively short hops over the atlantic and accruing AA miles. i’m not sure i’d be quite so positive flying all the way from the west coast.

  25. Good review, thanks! Just to be clear, BA’s service standards manual for Club World says trays / drinks are to be passed across the divider – so crew are trained to lower / raise divider. I think it’s to avoid injuries from having to stretch / reach across.

  26. @Alan

    I second your compliments to Tiffany.

    It is indeed a far better balanced review, than what I have been used to with Mr. Schlappig

    Though on a positive note, I must admit, I did pay him a compliment, with his last BA review I read.

    So dare I say it, when it comes to writing a well balanced BA article, he is improving.

    Mark Smith

  27. @ Mark Smith — To clarify, a “well balanced” review is one where my British Airways crew is good, while a not well balanced review is one where I have on of the worst crews I’ve ever had? Interesting!

  28. Many passengers in BA Club World are irritated by being served through the divider screen – even though it is official BA policy that this is how it should be. They do not want crew to serve by going around the back of the seat, so it tends to set up tension – many prefer the screen to be left alone, as it going up and down for up to three hours during the service forces you to have to stare eyeball to eyeball your ‘travel companion’ in the seat facing you. Many crew try and serve around the back of the seat as they know this is preferred, yet it is an awkward angle and involves a bit of stretch on their part – and then that’s where OH&S steps in!

    Perhaps we will just have to wait for a new seat design and see if they get rid of these little ‘irritants’.

  29. I prefer BA crews and BA lounges and being a Brit I do feel “home” once I get on a BA plane – but I have to give it to AA, the 777-300 has a much better hard product. I don’t actually hate the Clubworld seat (never sat in the aisle though and I’d definitely avoid it). So if you agree with Ben that business is all about the seat (and I probably do on balance) then yes AA has it by a nose. PS I don’t understand all the fuss about Fever-Tree!

  30. Nice trip report.

    Crew:
    The level of service depends upon the type of rest “holiday” the crew had, and the destination/hotel. They are human afterall. Flying into the bigger cities/airports must be quite stressful on some level. Yes, its their job, but they are still human. There are also other factors going on with management ALWAYS that probably play a part on any given day. We all know how an email can leave us in a not so jolly mood for a bit.

    Catering:
    Food is prepared anywhere up to 3 hours prior to departure (what happens if they prepare before that) which it feels like some airport caterers do) So that first meal could be off, and by the time you reach the last meal, that food could easily have been half cooked in prep 8-20 hours before (as an extreme) but I would suspect possible.

    Unless the airline does their own catering or has someone there to oversee, this is what is possibly happening.

    A smaller airport like San Diego has very few premium long haul flights…so they are not rushed, and possibly can prepare the food with a little more love, as opposed to a conveyor belt process at say LAX or JFK. Plus the crew, well they are fresh off the beach and their hotel is probably also 5 to 10 mins away. SAN is probably the perfect recipe for everything coming together well.

    Ben’s experience. Well he is KNOWN to BA and Im sure some crew staffers. Whereas BA does at times appreciate his blog (I know this from a management friend at the airline). Maybe some rogue FA’s do not and decide to treat him not so well….its a possibility since we know “some” FA’s think they are god and can be quite the bitch or bastard. I actually prefer younger crews, even if they are less polished, the enthusiasm goes a long way, and I should add that AA is really learning a lot from BA and QF and are stepping up their game big time, especially on they key routes.

  31. I’ve flown Club World several times, including a few on the upper deck of the 747. I realize this puts me in the minority of most avgeeks, but I’ve always liked Club World. Catering has generally been more hit than miss, and though some crews have left something to be desired, the best way I can describe it is, to borrow from comment on another blog somewhere, “reassuringly British”. Given that I’ve usually flown BA J to/from India, it’s just really comforting after several weeks in controlled chaos.

    And I should add, when your home base is DFW, and a TATL ride on AA more often than not means a flight on a tatty old 772 with the old 2-3-2 angled flat seats in J, Club World seems like heaven in comparison…

  32. Great report, Tiffany!

    I think that BA CW is generally underrated. I find the seat among the best in terms of sleep comfort. It is easy to move and turn while sleeping, because the seat is not narrower at the foot end. And the padding has just the right firmness/softness for me. Food and service is also fine for me.

  33. ‘improve the gin offering’ that’s bleeding Tanqueray gin – doesn’t get better in my view (especially at 48% ABV:)

  34. I think the key for BA Club World will be on the price point. A couple of years ago, it seemed to be more expensive (ex Europe) than some of the Gulf carriers, which offered a better product at a better price, and was therefore a no-brainer to book those carriers. BA seem to have launched more fare sales/offers etc over the last 12-18 months (though sometimes you have to look hard for them!) which can work out at a lower fare than the Gulf Carriers. The choice becomes a lot more down to what level of service/quality one wants to pay for.

  35. Your comment about the BA Club pillow is spot on. I flew Club St Lucia to London in Dec – the pillow is about 1cm thick, barely thicker than the cover. I took 3 of them from empty seats next to me and still it wasn’t a comfortable pillow. Has anyone from BA service quality department flown Qatar? The business class pillow is another world from 4 BA club pillows stacked on top of each other!

  36. We have recently flown BA Club World from London Heathrow to Singapore. The Crew was what I would politely call “unenthusiastic”. At times service was downright rude – I have never felt the need to apologize for asking for a drink before … Food quality was just so-so. Continuing onward from Singapore to Sydney, I managed to snag an Avios upgrade to First, so we were hoping for slightly improved service. No luck there. Service was equally rude, and half of the wine list selections “hadn’t been loaded”. No dessert wine whatsoever to go with the cheese. Never had that happen on a first class flight before. Also, the food offerings were lower quality than other airlines’ business class menu. Really disappointed with the whole experience, we won’t be booking BA again any time soon.

  37. The divider up and down yes it was always taught for Elf & safety reasons to prevent crew twisting and turning and the divider is too high to just pass safely over the top it’s likely to land in a lap instead!
    The club world cabin is a long distant memory now

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