While it may lack the in-your-face glamour of the Middle Eastern airlines, the conservative Englishman in me has always rather enjoyed flying good old British Airways.
Throw in the fact that it was my first time on a BA A380, and this was a trip that I had long been looking forward to.
While I always try and be as objective as possible in my reviews, I must confess to a slight natural bias towards BA. It’s my home nations’s flag carrier airline, and it runs the frequent flyer scheme that I am both most comfortable with, and rich in – Avios.
However, putting down my cup of Earl Grey for a moment, was it really any good? Here’s what I thought…
On arrival at Heathrow, we headed for the Galleries Business Class lounge in Departures.
It’s a big lounge, with a trendy approach to the furnishings that feels a little like an extended Starbucks. As such, BA have done a good job of including an eclectic mix of seating and designs, and while space was at something of a premium, we were able to find some comfortable seats with views outside.
I won’t go into too much detail on the Galleries lounge, as it’s been reviewed plenty of times before. In short, it is a pleasantly designed lounge, with a good range of drinks and snacks and good views out on to the airport, so no complaints there.
If I was to pick one issue, it would be just how many people were in the lounge. While we got seated without two much difficulty, the place was full, and that gave it a slightly manic, “school canteen” feel at times.
The above said, having recently visited the superb Turkish Airlines Istanbul lounge, the BA lounge was always going to suffer by comparison.
On our return, we also used the Galleries lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5 Arrivals. I will review this separately.
It may not be proving too popular with the airlines, but I love the A380: the ultimate jumbo jet. A plane that seems to take off so slowly and quietly it could not possibly get airborne: a touch disconcerting perhaps, but a truly marvellous feat of engineering.
It is of course very hard to get a sense of the sheer scale of the plane, because you are channeled directly into your particular compartment of your particular floor. In fact, it wasn’t until I visited the truly enormous washroom that I realized just how the A380 benefits from the luxury of space:
But, sadly, BA haven’t done anything particularly clever with the A380 design, there largely just seems to be more seats. No bar or communal areas, no “Residence“. Indeed, if we put to one side the enormous bathrooms – not exactly what you want your major selling point to be – the Business Class product (based on my experience at least) could have been one on any other BA long-haul plane.
A missed opportunity, or rightfully avoiding gimmicks? I’m not sure, but for me it was this “standard” approach that initially reinforced my feeling that BA et al are simply not doing enough to match the (sometimes outrageously) premium products of the Middle Eastern airlines. Whether that actually matters will be borne out over the next few years.
The seats/flat beds
This is my major complaint. I was assigned an aisle seat, in the front row before the galley, and was not impressed. For a Business Class seat, it is very, very exposed. Of course, an aisle seat always will be to some degree, but you can see from the picture that you pretty much form part of the aisle: there’s no attempt at shielding you whatsoever.
This is in stark contrast to the window seat, where you are fully enclosed and entirely private in what becomes a surrounded “pod”. Much better. The problem here for me is two people who technically are paying exactly the same for two seats are getting a substantially different product in my view: one a beautifully private, cosy pod, the other an exposed and disturbed aisle seat.
Of course, a plane needs to have aisle seats, even in Business Class, but I felt that more could have been done, particularly on an A380, to give the seat a bit of privacy. The simple lesson here is to push for a window seat, and certainly not an aisle seat next to the galley.
The above said, wherever they may be, the flat-beds are great: a proper night’s sleep on a slim but entirely comfortable bed. It’s your standard flat-bed product, but I have no complaints, and slept soundly as I always hope to in Business Class.
The entertainment was provided via a good sized TV with, of course, a range of the latest options on it. The only complaint here is the touch screen element to it, which was sluggish to say the least.
The food on the flight actually exceeded my expectations. Having most recently flown with Etihad Business Class, I was expecting to be a touch underwhelmed by BA’s offering, but it generally delivered.
Breakfast was dubiously presented, but generally edible.
My wife assures me the breakfast smoothie was delicious, I wouldn’t know as they ran out…
Finally, I understand that there also is “an array of indulgent treats and healthy options from our Club Kitchen that you can help yourself to, throughout the flight“. Sadly at no point was I alerted to this (although I believe it is on the menu somewhere), which is slightly poor customer service: if these things exist, make sure that customers know about them.
I am British, so I quite like the slightly no-nonsense approach of British Airways staff. It’s not the constantly-smiling pandering you get with many of the Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, but it’s generally competent, efficient and sincere.
In hindsight, better flagging of the Club Kitchen is my major issue here, but generally I was happy.
I will also share with you a rather lovely story. 4 years ago, my wife and I flew back from our honeymoon with BA (we had taken the trans-Siberian railway to Beijing), in Premium Economy. When a certain BA steward found out about this, he served us each a glass of champagne – a very nice touch. Remarkably, the very same steward was on our flight to Hong Kong. On recognising him, my wife got chatting (I was asleep at the time) and later he presented her with a bottle of champagne, 4 years in. A really classy gesture.
First of all, it’s very important for me to make it absolutely clear that this was a good quality Business Class flight. The service was attentive, the food was varied and pleasant, and the seats were comfortable. The obvious complaint here is the exposed aisle seat, which gives little in the way of privacy both when sitting and asleep, and contrasts markedly with the window or inner seats, which are neatly enclosed pods. Otherwise, it fully met my expectations as a solid Business Class product with a price tag of a few thousand pounds.
However, there was certainly nothing extravagant or beyond expectation to the product offered. No lavish food or drink, no chauffeur pick-up, no legions of eagerly attentive stewardesses.
While it pains me slightly to say this, the service now being offered by the likes of Etihad, Emirates and Qatar is substantially more impressive than the good quality, but entirely standard, product being served up by British Airways.
I fully accept that there may be somewhat anti-competitive reasons for this (allegedly unlimited state aid and migrant workers on peanuts being two obvious elements here), but the fact is that, however they are doing it (and whatever the ethics of this – business or otherwise), there is little doubt that the big Middle Eastern carriers are accelerating away from the likes of British Airways, American Airlines etc.
However, for those of you that think the little touches of class are now entirely overlooked by British Airways, the bottle of champagne was a lovely gesture. It’s unlikely to be ordinary practice, but a clear example of the fact that the BA staff will go out of their way to provide a good customer experience.
How did I get the tickets, and what did they cost?
The Business Class tickets were Avios redemption tickets. They cost 120,000 Avios each, plus around £570 in taxes and fees.
However, I used a British Airways American Express companion voucher to get the second ticket for zero Avios plus £570, so total cost was 120,000 Avios, plus £1,140.