Airline: British Airways Flight #: BA460 Route: LHR – MAD Class: Club Europe Seat:
2A 11K Date: Monday 2nd September 2019
The first Monday in September saw a vast proportion of Britain’s schools return after the summer break and people returning to work after their holidays. For me however it brought the day I had been excited about for months, the day I was flying to Madrid with British Airways (BA) in Club Europe. This was my first experience flying with a ‘legacy’ airline in their business product and to add to the excitement, I was going to be travelling on the one flight a day BA operate using a wide body Boeing 777 rather than a narrow-body Airbus. This flight had cost me just £31.92 and 15,000 Avios points which I had been saving for a few years.
I hadn’t initially planned on checking in via the mobile app, however when checking it the night before my flight I noticed that my seat had been changed from the one I had paid to book. Frustrated by this, I checked in to ensure I got a reasonable seat and ended up with seat 11K. Whilst there may be a completely legitimate reason for the change, the fact I had paid to pick a seat which I could have just picked at check-in and the lack of any communication from British Airways was a slight disappointment however didn’t detract from my overall excitement.
After a stress-free journey to Heathrow with LNER, London Underground and TfL Rail, I headed up to departures and was pleased to find a traditional check-in desk for Club Europe/World bag drop as opposed to one of the self-service kiosk. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the airport I had dropped off my bag, was through fast-track security without any issues and en-route to one of the British Airways Lounges. Terminal 5 has a number of British Airways lounges with some being located at both the north and south ends of the terminal. Having done a bit of research online prior to travelling, I made my way to the Galleries South lounge which was supposedly the slightly quieter of the two Club Europe/World lounges.
Having had my boarding pass scanned by a member of staff, I headed into the lounge and was surprised at just how large it was. Directly ahead as you arrive is the buffet area which had a wide selection of both hot and cold breakfast food available. There were a huge number of seats spread out across different areas with coffee machines and self-serve bar areas dotted throughout. Although this is the ‘quieter’ of the two lounges, it was still quite busy given the large number of flights departing BA’s hub throughout the day.
As I had a couple of hours to relax within the lounge I decided to move around a couple of times to see how the various areas compared. I initially settled near to the windows at the end of the lounge which has a glass bar style worktop as well as a number of armchairs and coffee tables. Most importantly for me was the great views out over the apron and southern runway allowing me to see the wide variety of aircraft departing Heathrow, including Iberia’s EC-IJN which was displaying a special colour scheme celebrating Cantabria, a region in northern Spain which includes the city of Santander.
The other end of the lounge has a similar seating area as well as a designated workspace, sofas and a ‘cinema’ which was essentially a semi-enclosed space with sofas and a large TV showing BBC news. Although the view from this end of the lounge wasn’t great (I had a wonderful view of security…), it was quieter and allowed me to get on with some work with the minimum of distraction. One thing I noticed throughout the lounge was the apparent lack of plugs in the general seating areas with only a few dotted around anywhere that wasn’t the dedicated workspace. Shortly before I left the lounge the lunch options became available and, although I was expecting food on the flight, the Moroccan Spiced Meatballs looked too appetising not to sample. Along with this delicious dish there was also pesto pasta, a chicken stew and rice available in addition to a salad bar and bread etc.
Having drank more than my fair share of coffee, the time came for me to leave the lounge and head to the gate. Terminal 5 is split into three buildings with T5A being the main building and ‘5B’ and ‘5C’ being satellite buildings to the east. My flight was leaving from gate C65 and so I headed to the transit train which connects the satellites with the main building. Arriving at the gate about 15 minutes before boarding began I decided to do a lap of the satellite terminal as the floor to ceiling glass provided excellent views across the airfield.
Boarding started about 40 minutes prior to departure and as a Club Europe passenger, I was in the first group of passengers to board. Our aircraft for the flight today was G-VIIB, a 20-year-old Boeing 777-200ER which is in a four-class configuration. On this flight the first-class cabin was not in use, however the remaining three; Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller were all used. Club World is in a 2-4-2 layout with the middle and window seats (including my 11K) facing rearwards. From these rear facing seats, access to the aisle requires stepping over the footrest of the forward-facing seat in the row behind. This layout also means that you’re essentially facing the person next to you which requires some serious avoiding of eye contact until the privacy screen can be raised after take-off.
All seats have and Inflight Entertainment (IFE) system which can be controlled by either the touchscreen or remote control. The seat also has a universal power socket and two USB sockets, one behind your shoulder with the reading light and one by your feet with the power socket. Next to the sockets at your feet is a ‘laptop’ drawer which can be used for either this or storing your shoes (my boots wouldn’t fit). Between the privacy screen and foot area is the IFE screen and tray table, both of which fold out at the press of a button. The tray table is a decent size for either working or eating (not both) and slides closer to the seat to allow for a more comfortable position. As would be expected from a long-haul business class seat, the seat position can be adjusted from upright to lie-flat with a range of adjustments in between.
The primary reason for BA operating a wide-body on this flight is to facilitate the movement of larger amounts of cargo, and unfortunately this came back to bite us as an issue with the loading of this caused a delay to departure. We eventually pushed back at 1338, about 20 minutes late and after a taxi past terminals 2 and 3, lined up for departure on Heathrow’s runway 27L, taking off at 1355. Being seated on the right-hand side of the aircraft, I was able to see the aircraft queuing to depart after us and shortly after departure got a great view of Eton Dorney rowing lake through a gap in the clouds.
About 15 minutes after departure as we continued our climb towards the English coast a member of the cabin crew came round the cabin offering hot towels allowing us to freshen up slightly after boarding. Shortly after this the crew came to every pair of seats individually to take our drink order, before then bringing these drinks from the galley prior to moving on to the next pair of seats. I had wanted to try the Brewdog Speedbird 100, a specially brewed beer to celebrate BA’s centenary, however this was unfortunately not available. Deciding to ‘push the boat out’ I went for a glass of Champagne which was delivered with a packet of roasted Almonds.
Shortly after passing the coast of Normandy the crew had finished the drinks service and came around the cabin again to take food orders and, as with the drinks, deliver these prior to moving onto the next pair of seats. Whilst this method took longer to serve everyone, it did make the service feel more personal and enhanced the Club Europe experience (for me at least). There was a choice of three different main courses on offer on this flight: a British roast chicken supreme with sweetcorn mash and vegetables; a vegetable korma with rice; and my option roasted Scottish beef, grilled chicken, cream cheese and pesto. All three options came with a hummus starter, a cheesecake bowl dessert and a mini cheese board. I found my beef option to be delicious, with the meat having been cooked just the right amount before being chilled and the pesto having a lovely flavour.
After lunch was finished and cleared away, I decided to get some work done and so settled in with some music from the IFE to write some blogs. Setting up the music to play on the IFE was fairly straightforward with the touchscreen being sufficiently responsive that I didn’t need to use the remote. The IFE also had a good inflight map and so I set this up to display whilst the music played in the background, allowing me to keep an eye on our journey whilst doing some work. One slight issue I found with the seat, and more specifically the tray table, was that whilst large enough to work it wasn’t particularly stable, causing it to bounce as I typed on my tablet. Whilst this effect was minimised the closer I moved my tablet to the join of the table, it did limit the useful space available.
As we crossed the Spanish coast a member of the cabin crew kindly brought me a cup of coffee (which as coffees go, was excellent!) and I decided to relax and enjoy the final part of the flight. Flicking through the on-board magazine, I noticed that WiFi was available and so tried to connect to this for a short time. Unfortunately, whilst the network was certainly there, I only got a persistent loading screen and didn’t make it as far as seeing what cost options there were for use.
About 20 minutes before landing the seatbelt sign was turned on and my first BA Club Europe experience was drawing to a close. This brought another slight issue with the seat (not that it affected me) in that as the IFE screens fold out from the seat, they have to be stowed for take off and landing meaning that for the final 20 minutes of the flight you can’t watch anything. However, you can still listen to music and so I finished listening to the Best New British Music playlist I had found as we approached the Spanish capital. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the aircraft to get any views of Madrid as we looped around the city on approach too the airport, however I was treated to the wonderful landscape of the Spanish countryside. We landed seven minutes early (despite our delayed departure from Heathrow) and within 10 minutes were at the gate and alighting from the aircraft.
In conclusion my first experience of BA’s Club Europe product was certainly a good one, made better by the Club World hard product I was able to experience. The service was absolutely excellent with the crew being extremely friendly and always ensuring we were looked after. The food was lovely and certainly enough for a flight of less than two hours, with the only minor negative being the lack of the Speedbird 100 beer. My only slight criticisms would be of the seat with, (and please don’t take this as ungratefulness, just feedback) some of the facilities being poorly placed. The USB and headphone sockets behind the shoulder were tricky to access and when I leant back I knocked the headphone jack causing the music to jump. The location of the screen could have also been a frustration if I was watching something when the seat-belt sign came on and overall this seeming lack of attention to detail did detract from the seat. However, the seat itself was extremely comfortable and certainly much better than the seats I’m used to (or the actual Club Europe seats). Hopefully some time in the future I’ll be able to try the Club World hard product out on a long-haul flight with the Club World service to match!
Lounge 4* Seat/Facilities 3* Food 4* Service 5* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 21/25 (read about my rating system here!)