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BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Thu Sep 04, 2003 3:26 am

My trip to Aus was booked at the last minute, I work for a record company and one of our artists was touring Australia. The reason for my trip was to see the local distributor, PR people, agent etc and raise the profile of the label and the rest of the roster. I was quite happy to fly economy, but when I called my travel agent I asked them to look for business class bargains first. The lady found a return on BA for £2099, which compared to the published fare of £4350 is the bargain of a lifetime. That said, despite being half the published fare, it’s also double the economy fare, so I decided against it. Just as I was about to ask her to move onto the economy fares, she said there was one seat available for £1699. “BOOK IT!” I shouted with much excitement. I know all about the joys of flat beds from having flown to Sydney at Xmas in Qantas First (don’t ask me how that was possible, it’s too complicated).

I have to be in a window seat, and BA only allow a third of their seats to be pre-allocated, and I was too late to get one, but by joining BA’s Executive Club I was able to register for online check in up to 24 hours in advance, so the night before I left I came into the office and after some confusion on BA’s not-great site I found the online check-in page and bagged a window at the rear of zone B.

I got a lift to the airport with one of my artists (with much promising to get him an Aussie tour) and got to T4 at about 8pm for the 10.30pm flight (BA15). The place was absolute chaos like only the British can manage, queues in every direction, horrible. The Club World queue was hundreds of people deep, spiralling out of the cordoned-off rows and halfway round the terminal (the economy check-in queue was something considerably worse, there must have been thousands of people, many with an hour in the queue ahead of them). The internet check-in served me well, cos it meant I could get into the ‘luggage drop’ queue instead, which was a poorly-advertised desk with no-one in front of it. Bags dropped and boarding card in hand, I went through the Fast Track security (wonderful) and pretty much straight to the gate. My fucking laptop weighs a tonne and the gate was miles away through a warren of passages and corridors and by the time I got the aircraft I was already smelling a little odd and looking dishevelled.

The cabin looked great, like a cocktail lounge or something, with the seats in pairs, like pods. The design of the seats is really clever, they don’t take up more space than an old 80s-style business class seat (indeed the configuration is 8 abreast on the 744) and yet it really is a proper bed, with powerpoints and little drinks holders and god knows what else. A triumph of design. We got menus, amenity packs (very nice but not having a razor is a pain in the arse if you want to look decent when you get off the other end) and an orange juice. The window seats face backwards and it doesn’t feel that different. Since I returned facing backwards as well I don’t know what the seat position for takeoff and landing is in a forward-facing seat, but in the rear-facing seat you sit at quite a recline, I would say about 45 degrees. On the controls for the seat there’s a button showing a plane taking off, and that moves the seat to the correct position. When it’s done a little green LED on the top of the seat comes on so the cabin crew can tell when they do their pre-takeoff / landing checks.

They had to replace a nav computer (various mechanics trooping in and out of the aircraft with equipment and tools) but we were assured we’d make up the time in the air (which we did). After a long taxi I had my first rear-facing takeoff which was pretty cool, great view of where we’d come from although it’s a little uncomfortable cos the natural urge is to slide out of your seat, held in place only by the seatbelt.

The food was OK, I can’t remember what it was nor that I was particularly knocked-out by it, fairly typical business class food, nothing to get excited about. Anyway, this is a British airline, hardly a nation renowned for it’s cuisine, right? I watched a movie called Anger Management on the PTV, which btw is a vastly overrated phenomenon if the content is as rotten as it is on BA. A couple of films I’d heard of (ie Ten Days To Lose A Guy), naff Discovery Channel nonsense about otters and a skyscraper in Japan, crappy dated British comedy like Porridge, crappy unfunny American comedy like Everyone Loves Raymond, and, er, that’s yer lot. Cheers. Anyway Anger Management was complete bullshit, someone has apparently told Marisa Tormei she looks sexy and vulnerable when she bites her bottom lip which she did constantly, someone should tell Jack Nicholson the de Niro-like move into comedy isn’t his thing, and as for Adam Sandler, anyone who bases a career around talking like an eight year old should be drowned. Not good at all.

The great thing about the seat is you can really sleep properly. I was exhausted when I got on the plane and after the end of that terrible film and the clearing of the meal, I flattened the bed out and got ready to sleep. The pillow was wafer-thin and I asked for another one, of course the flight attendent couldn’t help me. I hate to be so down on the UK, I live there and there’s much to admire, but they can’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. It’s entirely typical that they can buy super-duper seats that turn into beds and provide power for laptops etc but can’t manage to carry a few spare pillows. Anyway I got comfortable and fell asleep over Austria, and woke up over Vietnam, ten hours later. No way could you do that in 67K. I’d got my £1699’s worth already. There was a breakfast service which made sense cos we’d had dinner before it, but the local time as we landed in Singapore was about 7pm so it can’t have done any good to the passengers getting off in Singapore. I went to my usual spot on the roof of the terminal and had a very overdue smoke. Fuck it’s hot and humid in Singapore, how human life can be sustained in such a climate is beyong me.

We took off again for the overnight flight to Sydney and I managed a few more hours sleep. At one point I was dozing and had a sudden urge to sit up and look out the window. There, 38,000 feet below (no one seems to cruise at odd-numbered flight levels anymore!) was the coast of northern Australia sliding beneath us, the sea shimmering in the moonlight, the continent untroubled by any sign of human existence. Nice. We came in over Botany Bay for a landing about 5.30am, which was still proper nighttime in the southern winter. Our bags were on the carousel really fast and customs and immigration was a breeze, as it always is in Australia.

(My two weeks in Oz were very successful, most of the gigs sold out with the terrible exception of Surfers Paradise, where almost no-one turned up, yikes. In the second week I got a terrible flu but pressed on and had all my meetings. Great country, unlike the UK everything does work and there’s no traffic so you can get stuff done. Keep it up Oz.)

My return trip was not at all good, and I’ll be writing to BA to complain. Let this be my rehearsal. First of all, I couldn’t check in online cos BA hadn’t been able to get my Executive Club details to me before I left the UK. By the time I got to the check-in desk all they had was a middle seat, which was pretty useless. But worse was to come.

I went through emigration and security (long slow queue for the metal detectors) and headed to the gate. The BA flights (there’s two, 15 minutes apart) had their own pier, and to get into the pier meant a massive queue - no Fast Track, the whole thing was improvised with handmade signs and cordons. The queue was for further security, and it was really strict. They were going through everyone’s handluggage, frisking everyone and running the wand over everyone. I asked the guy rooting through my handluggage, Why the extra security? He said, “September 11.” Which I didn’t buy for one second, (a) that was years ago and (b) we’d all come straight from the main security check. Which I pointed out, and this dickhead searching my bag said I obviously don’t travel much. Yeah right. The whole thing really rattled me cos he was obviously told to refer to 9/11 if anyone asked him anything. BA obviously have a security problem that extends beyond Saudi and Kenya and I really didn’t want to get on the plane. With much trepidation I did, found my seat which was at the back of zone C, facing backwards and miles away from the windows, which pissed me off more. There were no menus available for some reason probably not unrelated to BA not being able to get their shit together. We pushed back on time and taxiied for about half an hour, took off eventually and headed out over New South Wales. The cabin crew were grumpy from having to read out the food options 80 times (I overheard it a few times as they got closer but I was so pissed off about the crappy seat assignment that I pretended I hadn’t heard it and got the hostie to recite it one more time); they then managed (perhaps deliberately) to bring me the wrong choice.

Since I wanted to smoke a zillion fags as soon as the encounter with security v2.0, the leg to Singapore was the longest ever, and as though I wasn’t unhappy enough, we had 130mph headwinds the whole way and the flight took nearly 9 hours. I got onto the roof at the terminal and puffed away like a madman. On the way back to the gate I stopped at WH Smith and bought a copy of Airliner World (a very pleasant surprise), the Economist and Time. I had a copy of a book about Clinton under my arm which I already bought in Oz, and the guy behind the counter saw it and we made a joke about paying for it as well. Then he said, “I much preferred Clinton to Bush.” Me too buddy, me too.

The final leg to Heathrow was better, menus appeared, I scored another amenity bag, and we cruised for 13 hours and 40 minutes. I expected to get loads of sleep but could only manage a few hours, and ended up watching a movie called View From Above starring Gweyth Paltrow, about flight attendents. Mike Myers was in there too, I found it all a bit confusing and not funny. Then I watched Agent Cody Banks twice in succession while reading Airliner World and the other stuff, not a piece of art like cinema should be, but a very efficient piece of corporate entertainment which did what it was supposed to. There’s a thing called Raid The Larder where you can go to the galley and get snacks, I had two yummy salmon and egg sandwiches and half a dozen packets of pretzels (which sounds greedy but they were very small packets).

Breakfast was offered but by the time the flight attendent got to me they were out of hot breakfasts. I suggested in no uncertain terms that the chap get something from First Class, and eventually I got a nice plate of bacon, eggs and sausuages. We descended over the North Sea and landed somewhere within the boundaries of Heathrow.

BA had a priority channel for immigration and they had a couple of little desks with landing cards on them but of course the chains that once had pens on them were dangling sans pens. There was a BA staff member standing by, oblivious. I asked her for a pen but another passenger beat her to it. That disorganised English thing is really annoying – making sure there’s a pen on the desk isn’t asking very much at all.

It took AGES for the bags to appear on the carousel, plus the check-in staff at Sydney didn’t have any priority tags so I was standing around for about 45 minutes. Swanned through the green channel despite being about 500 cigs over the limit of 200, and headed to BA’s arrivals lounge, which was really great, it’s as good as the seat if you want to arrive in better shape (that’s Cathay’s slogan but anyway). You get a big shower room with a little hole in the door, you put your clothes in the hole and press a button, and while you’re showering they take your clothes and air them out, valet them and return them. Cool huh? Then I went upstairs to their main lounge and had a nice breakfast and read the paper.

So there you have it. BA could have a great product but they suffer from the terrible English disease of not quite bothering to do anything properly, so my experience of their Club World product was mostly cursed by missed opportunities and defined by irritating fuck-ups. Maybe a well-organised product is impossible when you’ve got 50 747s and tens of thousands of employees, but I think they could do a lot better and I’ll only fly them again (I’ll be going to Oz at least three more times between now and April) with reluctance. The flatbed in business class is no longer a unique selling point for BA, everyone’s getting them, so for my next few trips I’ll be more likely to try some other airlines, like Cathay or Qantas. Shame.
fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Thu Sep 04, 2003 3:41 am

Shame you didn't have as good a time as you should in BA Club!

I assume you were upstairs in the 744? Both my 744 trips have been upstairs and I much prefer it to the larger cabin...almost like being on a BBJ and better service. The storage is also much better.

I have flown BA Club three times this year, LHR-HKG (744), PEK-LHR (777) and JFK-LHR (744) and have nothing but praise for the good if not stunning service and friendly crews.

In terms of the bed, I have found it slightly more comfortable if its not in the fully flat position, but maybe thats just me.

I'll have the chace to compare with SIA Raffles on the LHR-SIN run later this year, so I might get a more balanced impression of Club World.
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Thu Sep 04, 2003 8:21 pm

Shame you had a bad flight on BA but based on my own experience they still have the best business class product in the sky and in particular, their seat is miles ahead of anything else. The other operators (including SQ) have a long way to go yet in comparison, although CX's new product is pretty good. But I guess you had one of those occasional bad trips...

Btw, with respect to content being offered on the PTV system - I think August was a bad month for all airlines! I flew CX, BA, QF and SQ during August and every airline had awful films available... I guess there is just nothing around that is any good...
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Fri Sep 05, 2003 12:22 am

Great report. I flew BA Club JFK-LHR a few weeks ago and I was impressed, though I agree with you about the pillow being too thin. I would have also appreciated a thicker blanket. I'm flying in Club World again next April LHR-SFO-LHR so I'll be sure to post a report to let you all know if I have a better experience!

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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Fri Sep 05, 2003 12:22 pm

I think that BA have a very good Business Class product.
The only changes I would make is to add a larger pillow and a larger blanket.
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Sat Sep 06, 2003 5:16 am

I have never had the pleasure to experience the new modern-day club world (When i went on it it was back before 2000 on a flight from LGW-MCO and it wasn't all that flash flat beds etc).

It always seems to be the return flights that have the worse service. Mainly because they don't usually spend that long at the airport for them to make sure everything's mint. Also the depression of going home usually makes it worse.

But, in a way, you got what you paid for. You got a great deal there.

If you are flying out to Oz again i'd recommend VS from experience (i know they don't fly there but maybe a connection in Hong Kong with CX). The entertainment is great and you'll almost certainly find something you like from the 52 movies offered in v:port. Also you'll get the chance to fly on the A340-600.

Oh, by the way, do you know what aircraft you had? Or what dates did you travel?


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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Sat Sep 06, 2003 8:07 am

Nice report, and very down to earth. How easy/difficult was it getting in and out of the middle seat on the return journey, with everyone in sleep mode? I've wondered how accessible those two middle beds would be in the middle of the night. Glad you liked Oz, Shame about Surfers, but hey, there is just so much else to do there that people were probably spoilt for choice.
"...every aircraft is subtly different.."
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Sat Sep 06, 2003 10:13 pm

Thanks for the report, great to read! Glad you managed to get such a bargain on your flight down to SYD. It's a shame BA screwed some aspects of their service up, but that's not unheard of, as anyone who flies BA longhaul at least twice a year can understand.

I found your 'terrible English disease of not quite bothering to do anything properly spot on!  Laugh out loud
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Sun Sep 07, 2003 1:24 pm

I was on the similar SIN-SYD-SIN flight with BA not too long ago. The extra security is for the threat that was issued against British interest, I think. I must say I had 2 great flights with them and was very very pleasantly surprised with that. After all, I was reading about how crappy BA flights were over this forum. I guess i was lucky, huh?

Food was crappy and so were the movies selection... but the 2 sets of crew I had were excellent. Chatty and witty...

Welcome to my starry one world alliance, a team in the sky!
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Mon Sep 08, 2003 11:45 am

Flew SYD-SIN-LHR and return in Club World in May and enjoyed it very much - being on the upper deck with 7 other pax felt like travelling on ur own BBJ ... seats / beds are great - service could have been better at times - to wait for a flight attendent for 15 minutes to get a drink in Club World is not very amusing ... food was quite OK, too ! Watched about 5-6 movies (which is plenty for me) on the way to Europe ... TV screens have a good size, too!

Then to compare travelled on QF biz class last month SYD-SIN-FRA - uh what a difference ... still got upper deck seating ... 32 seats instead of 20 on BA - no beds ... rather uncomfy seats ... which don't recline far enough ... food and service were quite good (which is rare for QF IMHO) and made up for it ...

Return ex FRA was 4 hours late - which is a pain as the scheduled depature is at 11.55 pm ... at least got upgraded for free to Biz Class again ... my charm with the ladies still seems to work ! Unfortunately got VH-OED which is ex MH or OZ ... and these ones have not received the cabin upgrade ... hence no PTV's in Economy and very small PTV's in Biz class ... also a very limited range of TV channels ... indeed the inflight entertainment magazin was for the 747-300's !

So my next trip will be via BA again - or QF in case they get their beds installed quickly enough ....


Frank Schaefer
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Tue Sep 16, 2003 1:35 am

Great, detailed report. Best line:

"they can't organize a piss-up in a brewery."
Maggs swings, it's a drive deep to left! The Tigers are going to the World Series!!!
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RE: BA LHR-SYD-LHR In Club World

Wed Sep 17, 2003 9:51 pm

Hey that was a great report, good humour.

As a student I hardly ever fly business class, and I try and avoid both AY and BA - horrible check-in at HEL and at least until recently AY didn't give any Finnair plus points for BA flights in certain classes i.e. student fares for example.

I only have flown BA long-haul a couple of times; LHR-YMX and LHR-NRT plus the franchisee BMed LHR-BAK. Haven't been impressed but given I fly in economy I reckon the product is ok.

Thanks again for the report

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