Having already flown the A350 in the new business class Club Suites, we were keen to try the less expensive British Airways A350 Premium Economy product. With Dubai being about the same distance from London as New York, and having never visited before, we thought Dubai would be a good medium-haul route to give the seat a try. What was it like? Read on to see what we experienced…
Flight No: BA0107
From/To: London (LHR) to Dubai (DXB)
Departure time: 12:35
Ticket Class: Premium Economy
Seat: 26A, 26B
Flight time: 6 hours 40 minutes
Oneworld Tier Points: 90
Check-in & Fast Track
We arrived at Terminal 5 about 3 hours before the flight and found the check-in areas to be quiet.
Although we could use a premium check-in desk, we opted to check-in through the main check-in desks in Zone B. Having already checked-in online, we could’ve used the self-drop baggage in Zone C and D. However, we wanted to check seating availability, so we made a beeline for the BA human! She was very nice and helpful.
We then proceeded down to South security and found both the Fast Track and main security lanes to be quiet and moving quickly. We were through and into the airside of the terminal within 5 minutes.
As BA doesn’t provide lounge access for passengers travelling in Premium Economy, we decided to use our Priority Pass to see what the Aspire Lounge was like. As the only paid-entry lounge at Terminal 5, it’s the only option for anyone travelling on an economy or premium economy ticket who doesn’t have BA Silver or Oneworld Sapphire status.
We will write a separate full and frank review about the Aspire Lounge Heathrow Terminal 5. All we’ll say at this point is it actually makes some of the other Aspire Lounges we’ve visited look great. Given the choice of restaurants and bars at Terminal 5, we’d probably put the £40 entry fee towards that.
The aircraft was parked at C gates, which is the furthest satellite terminal from the main Terminal 5 building. From the Aspire Lounge to the gate took us about 20 minutes, via the underground train that runs between to B and C gates.
Boarding Group 1 was being called when we arrived at the gate, with the predictable queue of Group 2-5 passengers blocking the gate entrance. For the true Premium Economy experience, we resisted pushing through the ruck and chose to hang back and board with Group 3 (Premium Economy and BA Bronze).
As we took the long walk down the air bridge (some are very long at C), we were reunited with our Group 1 and 2 friends, who were all queueing to enter the aircraft.
We were welcomed back by the cabin crew at the door, who must’ve noted we were Exec Club members. They pointed us to our seats on the right.
Arriving at our seat, we were surprised to find the overhead bins for our seats were full of safety equipment in green bags. Looking behind us, we found the centre overhead bin was filled with infant cots. There was nowhere above our seat to store our bags, so we had to put them in the bins above other seats. We sat down and prayed the people in front didn’t have carry-on bags.
Upon taking our seats, we were offered a glass of sparkling wine, orange juice, or water and handed the meal menu.
Something that struck us moving around the aircraft during the flight was how cramped the aircraft feels with the BA configuration. We’ve been lucky to fly the Qatar Airways A350-900 a few times and the cabin is open and feels spacious. Perhaps BA have put too many partitions in? Is it the narrower aisles? Or because they have kept the centre overhead bins when other airlines have ripped them out? We’re not 100% sure, but we don’t quite understand how BA have managed to make a larger variant of an aircraft feel smaller than its little sister. If you’re used to flying the 777 or 747, BA’s new A350 will feel different.
In the two images below, you’ll see the stark difference between the main entrance vestibule on the BA A350 and the Qatar Airways A350. The feeling of space is lost to the extra walls and narrow corridors. What a pity.
Aircraft type: Airbus A350-1000
Number of classes: 3
Number of seats in flying class: 56
Position: left hand side of the aircraft on the final row of Premium Economy
In addition to 56 Premium Economy seats, the aircraft also carries:
- 56 Club Suites at the front
- 219 Economy seats at the rear
Amenity Kit & Washrooms
We found an eye-catching zip-up pouch left on our seats with the headphones. Inside were socks, an eye mask, toothpaste, a toothbrush and a pen. It was more basic than the White Company kit you get in business class, but on-par with our expectations for premium economy.
There were 4 washrooms in the economy cabin behind ours. Given this aircraft was under 2 months old, the condition of the washrooms at the start of the flight was worrying. Yellow stains all around the base of the toilet and walls, and what looked like the remnants of someone being a little but ill. Either the cleaning on the turnaround at Heathrow was superficial, or we might need to start questioning how well the interiors of these BA A350s will wear.
The 4 toilets shared between Premium Economy and Economy quickly became congested and there seemed to always be a line of passengers waiting down the aisles on both sides. We felt sorry for the passengers in aisle seats on rows 32-35. There were a further 4 toilets at the very back of the aircraft, although reaching these was challenging because of the passenger traffic in the aisles and a trolley always being in use. At one point there were 6 people waiting down one aisle, so one of us ducked through the curtain to use one of the 4 vacant loos in business class. Naughty, but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.
We’ll cut to the chase, as like us you’re probably only reading about British Airways A350 Premium Economy for one reason: is the seat enough of a step up from Economy to warrant the price? The short answer is yes, although the longer answer varies on how much the seat cost in comparison to economy and business class.
The tastefully upholstered seat had ergonomic cushioning, an adjustable head rest (including a bendy head cradle), an adjustable leg rest and separate foot rest. There was a small drinks ledge on the arm shared with the neighbouring seat and a larger dining table folded-out from the arm.
A British Airways premium economy pillow and blanket were left on each seat – both were comfortable to use.
Compared to Economy class, the seat in front was 7 inches (approx 18 cm) further away in Premium Economy. The seat was also an inch (2.5 cm) wider.
The recline and leg rest on the seat was controlled by manual buttons in the arm. We found them quite stiff, perhaps because they’re still new, so it might take a good shove to get them to move!
The seat reclined by 8 inches (20 cm), compared to 5 inches (12 cm) in Economy. It sounds measly, but it made a big difference to our sleep. We found the seat recline was sufficient to allow us to rest comfortably without our heads rolling forward and waking us up – common with regular economy seats. The folding side flaps on the head rest were sufficient to cradle our heads left and right.
Legroom was good. We’re both average height and could stretch our feet right beneath the seat in front without being able to reach the separation bar. Our knees were nowhere near the seat in front and suspect even taller passengers would struggle to get their knees banged.
Storage around the Premium Economy seat was limited. In addition to the seat-back pocket containing magazines, there was another space just below the TV screen that could be used to carefully store a few bits. We say carefully because it was open at the bottom, so smaller items fell out. We found it held the menu card or a thin book nicely. Between the two footwells was a bottle holder (which you can’t use during take off and landing!!)
At seat power was available as both 110V mains (universal plug) and USB ports. The power is only turned on when the aircraft is airborne, indicated by the green lights. The crew asked us to unplug the cables for take-off and landing.
While cleanliness around the floor was good, we did find a menu and small amount of litter from a previous flight in one of our seat-back pockets. Both our tray tables had sticky marks on them, which we easily wiped off with a hot towel. The window was covered in greasy marks from where someone had put their head against it. As with the toilet cleaning, the seat gave the appearance of having been cleaned in a hurry.
What is the best seat on British Airways A350 business class? We wouldn’t recommend where we sat on Row 26 for 3 reasons: While the seat fully reclines, the head rest bangs into the bulkhead wall behind, especially when you move around. Our row was the last to be served, resulting in long waits and items going out of stock. Finally, the crew didn’t seem to notice us sitting there, even with the call light on. Our recommendation is any seat on Row 20, which is at the very front of the Premium Economy cabin.
See the seating plan on SeatGuru.
Form over function was the theme with the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system, the headphones and the remote.
The large touchscreen display was clean and scratch-free. The user interface design is fairly intuitive, making it easy to search through the vast catalogue of movies and TV boxsets. We found something for every taste and kids were very well catered for. Saying that, the system crashed on one of us during a movie. After going dark, the display recovered, but audio was lost. After spending some time trying to attract the attention of cabin crew, they offered to reset the unit. About 10 minutes later the screen reboot backed to the home screen. On resuming the movie, the sound was still not working. After waiting for the meal trolley to reach us, we reported the continuing fault. The crew member seemed disinterested and more concerned about getting the food out. Eventually, she came back to the seat and suggested a different type of reboot be performed. She said this would affect a few other seats, so notified those passengers. After a lengthier reboot with lots of Android start-up information displaying on-screen, the system came back to life and do did the audio on the movie! Result.
Noise-cancelling headphones were supplied in a sealed polythene bag. The volume was good and the noise cancellation was reasonable. They became painfully uncomfortable after a few hours of use. Sore ears don’t make for a comfortable flight, so we’ll be using our own headphones in future.
There was a detachable remote control mounted in the seat armrest, although it was almost impossible to remove when the seat was reclined. The base of the seat raises as the seat is reclined, causing it to block access to the remote. Interesting design decision. Kids who are playing games on the IFE will need to be reminded to remove the remote when the seat is upright. Doing so when its reclined may result in trapped fingers.
Overall, the IFE system seemed a little underpowered, making its user interface sluggish and playback prone to crashes. Access to the remote being obstructed when the seat isn’t in the upright position just felt like bad design.
The cabin service started with a hot towel, then drinks about 30 minutes after take-off. One of us tried the Cabernet Sauvignon, while the other ticked-off the Bloody Mary Challenge. The wine was ice cold, as always seems to be the case with the mini bottles served on BA. The pre-dinner drinks were served with a mini bag of pretzels.
Overall, the drinks service on the flight felt like an “ask or don’t get” situation. Beyond the first drink, and the one offered when the meal is put down, beverages weren’t readily being offered by the crew.
Food was a mixed bag on our British Airways A350 Premium Economy flight to Dubai. Being the last row, by the time the trolley reached us – around 90 minutes into the flight – they’d run out of the braised beef, so we had a choice of the chicken or the vegetarian option. We both went for the grilled chicken. It was served on a tray with the small goat’s cheese salad, the desert, and a small bottle of still water. We were also offered a piece of bread from a basket, although it didn’t seem to have a home on the tray. This was also the last time we were offered a drink.
The goat’s cheese starter was a little bland. The orange and beetroot didn’t work for us – it just tasted bitter.
The main course tasted good, although the chicken appeared to be reformed into the shape of a breast. The lentils and pulses it was served on complimented the chicken well and the roasted vegetables were soft but not overcooked.
It’s hard to get a pre-baked cheesecake wrong on a plane. It was served perfectly chilled on a pool of chocolate sauce. Tasty.
The crew cleared the trays about 20 minutes after we’d finished, before leaving the cabin for a few hours. We managed to get the attention of one crew member walking by and asked for a Baileys.
About 90 minutes from landing at Dubai, we were offered a Magnum mini ice cream. Moments later, we were handed a box with a small margherita pizza inside. The sequencing of this part of the meal service didn’t feel right. Why would you hand someone a Magnum, then hand them a pizza? Perhaps our own eating habits are unconventional, but we’d have preferred the Magnum either midway through the flight or after the pizza.
Anyway, the Magnum was lovely, because it was chocolate and ice cream on a stick. The pizza was, well, make your own mind up from the picture.
Due to the delays involved in removing a passenger and their luggage from the plane, we arrived into Dubai International Airport 30 minutes behind schedule. Not too bad, considering we were an hour late departing. An air bridge was connected to the front of the aircraft and we disembarked fairly quickly behind the business class passengers.
Here, we need to give a mention to one of the A350’s hidden talents. Once again, we arrived feeling pretty fresh. We weren’t the usual dried-out, hoarse throated, clammy skinned messes that we’re conventionally spat out as after journeys over 6 hours. This could just be placebo, but we honestly think it’s because of the improved pressurisation, air filtration and lighting aboard the A350.
Immigration was quick to pass through and bags were delivered to the reclaim area with speed.
Our British Airways A350 Premium Economy flight to Dubai was good for the money we paid – the bottom end of the scale these seats retail at. This specific aircraft has only been in service for a few weeks and the teething problems were plain to see. The software running on the seat-back screens may need patching to avoid the crashes we experienced. Cleaning on the aircraft was substandard and will inevitably cause it to look tired well before it should.
We think the cabin service needs the most attention. It’s probably the least likely to be addressed out of the issues we’ve mentioned, although the area that could have the biggest impact on passenger satisfaction. The service isn’t at all attentive, more a box ticking exercise. Examples are:
- The unnecessary surliness when we reported the fault with the entertainment system.
- Walking rapidly through the cabin to avoid being asked for something.
- Handing out food items that most likely should’ve been served at different times.
- No-one passing through the cabin with trays of water or juice.
- Nobody checking if passengers were happy or wanted anything.
All-in-all, it’s a step-up from Economy. You get a more comfortable seat with more legroom and a greater recline. You’ll still feel like you’re in economy as far as the service goes, although the food is a little better. If your flight is overnight, you’ll definitely appreciate the features the Premium Economy seat offers.
Arm rests in BA Premium Economy don’t fold-up like they do in Economy. Don’t be tempted to take the middle 4 seats in an empty cabin in the hope of being able to lie flat across them.
If you know you’re booked on the last 3 rows of Premium Economy (24, 25 and 26) more than 48 hours before your flight, book a special meal through the BA website or call centre to ensure you can get the food you want.