London to Washington has long been a high-traffic route for the transatlantic carriers, which explains why it was one of the first to get A380. Thanks to an overbooked cabin (and recently gaining BA Exec Club Silver status), I was lucky to get upgraded from World Traveler Plus (my booking class) to Business Class (Club World). It was a comfortable day flight across to Dulles in British Airways A380 Business Class, read on to see why.
Flight No: BA0217
From/To: London Heathrow (LHR) to Washington Dulles Airport (IAD)
Departure time: 09:40
Ticket Class: World Traveler Plus, upgraded to Club World
Flight time: 8 hours
OneWorld Tier Points: 140
Check-in & Fast Track
I was flying solo on this trip, so arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 hoping the flight would be a relaxing one and praying the World Traveler Plus cabin wouldn’t be too busy. Check-in at Terminal 5 is customarily very pleasant, there were at least 100 check-in desks I could’ve opted to use! It was a Sunday morning and there was little in the way of queues in most zones, so I just went to the nearest. After receiving some rather delightful news that I’d been upgraded, I proceeded through the north Fast Track security that is available for passengers with club or first tickets, silver and gold BA Executive Club members, and Oneworld sapphire and emerald tier. Again, there as no queue and I was through the metal arch without a beep and stood outside the entrance to the North Galleries lounge within 5 minutes of leaving the check-in desk.
Being their home base, you’d expect the business class lounge to be great and it is. In fact, all 3 of them are great! At Terminal 5 there are two BA Galleries lounges in the main A terminal – Galleries North (400 seats) and Galleries South (800 seats) – and there is a third lounge over in the B satellite terminal. I picked North because it gets more natural light than Galleries South and tends not to be as warm.
Galleries lounges are predominantly self-service, with a hot and cold buffet food roughly matched to the time of day. As it was 8:30am, it was breakfast. I limited my intake as I knew I’d now be getting Club World food service. Tea and coffee (machine) are available alongside a range of chilled fresh juices. If you’re the kind of person who believes it’s always 5pm somewhere, or believes flying and wine go hand-in-hand, Galleries caters for the the all day drinkers with the usual show of 3 white and 3 red guest wines, as well as the house champagne on request – this is one of the few things you will be served at your table.
No matter the time of day, the lounge is typically busy, so you may find it hard to find a table at first, although everyone’s on the move, so it’s never long before space opens up. I tend to like the stools along the far window that look out onto the north runway, or if the lounge is feeling a bit hectic I’ll try outside on the terrace.
At the time of writing, lots of showers were available in the in North Galleries, a few less in South Galleries, and none over in the B terminal.
Boarding was well underway by the time I’d reached the gate – the A380s are often parked at C gates, which is a 15-minute dash (or 30 minute amble) from the main terminal building. Document checks were quick, thanks to the priority lane still being open. There were two air bridges onto the plane, one directly onto the upper deck and the one to my seat on the lower deck. As I already mentioned, boarding was well underway by the time I reached the gate, so it was a slow shuffle to my seat.
When I arrived at seat 11G, just to the right as I boarded, I was surprised that the British Airways A380 Business Class cabin seemed about the same size as one on a 777 or 747. As a member of the crew came to say hello, I learned there were two more Club World cabins on the upper deck! I asked if I could have a look and they kindly took me through the First cabin to the staircase at the front, and up to the top deck. Sure enough, there were Club World seats as far as the eye could see. A quick look on SeatGuru shows them occupying almost 50% of the upper deck.
Aircraft type: Airbus A380-800
Number of classes: 4
Number of seats in flying class: 97
Position: Lower deck, just behind first class (14 seats)
The amenity kit came in a sack-like bag that looked strangely like the bag I used to keep my PE kit in at first school. My first impression was it looked a little cheap for business class. Inside were socks, an eye mask, ear plugs, tooth paste and a toothbrush. Elemis moisturiser, hand lotion, and lip balm completed the kit.
The British Airways A380 Business Class seats were the standard Club World 2-4-2 front- and backward-facing lie-flat seats. Because of the dense configuration, not all seats had direct aisle access – most window passengers and the 2 right in the middle of centre had to climb over their neighbours into the aisle. There’s a shoe drawer at floor level, but no other storage around the seat… Unless you’re in a window seat on the upper deck where there are huge storage lockers beneath the windows! Being in 11G, I was out of luck; stuff is either in the drawer, on your lap (which ends-up down the seat or on the floor), or it’s in the overhead bins. Further, with an aisle seat you can’t have items on the floor as passengers need to climb over to get to their seats.
Once in the seat, it was all very comfortable – like a low arm chair – designed perfectly for a day of movies! There was a fold-down foot stool and the seat was fully adjustable into a lie-flat bed using the electric controls, with the footstool serving as the end of the bed. But then I caught the eye of my neighbour and it all got a bit awkward. You see, no matter where you sit in Club World, you’ll always have a passenger facing you in the neighbouring seat. While there’s a frosted perspex divider between the seats that you can raise after take-off, it’s open when the plane isn’t at cruising altitude and goes up/down a lot in meal service. When you’re left to watching movies or sleeping, the divider is up and you almost forget there’s someone on the other side.
What is the best seat in British Airways A380 Business Class?
On British Airways A380 Business Class, all seats are not equal. Where you choose to sit can easily affect your comfort. You can’t go far wrong with any window seat on the upper deck, except that they’re rear-facing. I never notice the difference, but some people say they don’t like the sensation during take-off. I say it’s worth it for the 7+ hours additional comfort you get between take-off and landing! The upper deck is quieter as there’s reduced vibration from the engines, the window seats are very private – nobody climbing over or serving across you – and there are extra storage bins along the ledge. While any window seat is a winner, our suggestion is 52A or 52K. See the seating plan on SeatGuru.
The In-flight Entertainment (IFE) system on the flight was a hinged touch-screen display that had to be folded away during take-off and landing; this meant no movies until the seat belt sign is off, and again when the seat belt sign went on for landing. Given taxi/take-off/landing is an hour of most flights, I tend to value gate-to-gate IFE systems where the screen is fixed. The movie selection was good, with 10+ recent Hollywood releases, and plenty of classics. There was also a range of episodes from box-sets, natural history documentaries, and a good range of kids content. There were also a handful of audio channels. A common issue with these hinged screens is if the hinge becomes loose, I’ve ended-up with a flapping screen the whole flight and it wasn’t fun. Thankfully, the hinge on 11G was working perfectly and there would be no flapping across the Atlantic. I watched the Kingsman before having a nap.
The standard issue headphones were noise-cancelling and perfectly adequate for the job. As with all standard issue headphones, the fit is never going to be as good as your own and they’re going to get uncomfortable after a while.
If there’s one thing BA cabin service are good at, it’s keeping your glass topped-up! After a welcome glass of champagne before take-off, I opted for a Bloody-Mary on the first drinks round; it was only 10am after all! After that, I got stuck into the wine list alongside lunch.
BA offered 2 red and 2 white wines in Club World. I went 100% USA, starting with the Elk Cove Pinot Gris before sampling the Lodi Zinfandel. Both were delicious. Naturally, second glasses were poured.
Lunch was served about 90 minutes into the flight and was a 3-course affair consisting of a hot or cold starter, hot main course, and dessert. I chose
As you can see from the picture above, food presentation in Club World wasn’t the best. It all tasted fine, although there was always a reminder in the appearance and texture that this was aeroplane food and definitely not an attempt at “fine dining”.
The second meal service was afternoon tea, with a small plate of finger sandwiches and a scone, served with either tea, or something a little stronger. I felt this was the right type and quantity of food, given it had only been 4 hours since finishing the last meal. Overall presentation of this was far better than lunch, which left me feeling like BA have an opportunity to make some simple tweaks to the Club World hot meal service that would leave a better impression.
On landing, we had a fairly long taxi to the stand before disembarking the aircraft down the air bridge and into what I can only describe as a wheeled container with windows. This rather bizarre contraption is known locally as a People Mover, was imagined by the Dulles airport architect as a how airports would be in the future. You can read more about these interesting “moving rooms” here. After the drive across the tarmac, we disembarked and joined the immigration lines.
For BA, it was good. A380 is a great aircraft to fly – spacious, smooth ride and quiet. As far as business products go, it was functional. The transatlantic London routes offer a fairly low bar when it comes to business class comfort. Virgin probably leads this market with its marginally better Upper Class product, although Virgin biz has its own shortcomings. Compared to the rest of the world, BA’s Club World really doesn’t compete. Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines (the list goes on) all offer 1-2-1 lie-flat seats, all with direct aisle access. The overall cabin service was good, although the meal quality was average.
Does British Airways A380 Business Class represent good value for money? That ultimately depends on what it costs. If you bag a transatlantic run in Business Class during one of the many sales then I think it does represent value for money.
Update: All this may be set to change with the prospect of new Club Suites replacing Club World seats.
Sit upstairs on British Airways A380 Business Class. If you want attentive service and need unobstructed access to the aisle, book seats B, D, G, or J. If prefer to be left undisturbed, go for window seats A and K.