As I only booked this trip around three weeks before travel I was glad to see the upper deck sparsely populated, with my preferred seat of 64K available. The usual formality that is online check-in was a little testier, with a call to BA in order, the gentleman informing me that I was unable to be checked in due to being singled out by US authorities for secondary inspection. I was due to be dropped off at Heathrow quite early as it was…
Route: London – Heathrow – New York – John F. Kennedy Int.
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA179
Aircraft: Boeing 747-436
Seat: 64K (Club World – Business Class)
Distance: 3451 miles
Duration: 6hrs 44mins
I was dropped off right around 2.30pm, with plenty of time to resolve the aforementioned issues and enjoy a bite to eat in the First lounge.
I was immediately assisted by the very friendly Debbie who informed me there were no issues with my booking and I was on my way to the lounge. Surprisingly for Terminal 5 the gate for my flight, from the B Satellite, was already posted. In the last year BA have implemented an immensely useful direct passage from First check-in into the Galleries First lounge. Boarding passes are checked by British Airways for eligibility and then again for conformance. Today both lanes in “The First Wing” were open and with no lines I was into the lounge in very quick order.
First Wing entrance and into the lounge
I followed the path of passengers booked in First and headed straight out of the lounge and across to the Elemis Spa. Despite being there more than 3hrs before departure there were a lack of appointments so I opted for a facial at 4pm. On my way back into the Galleries First I dropped my bag with the valet before scoping out a place to sit. As the lounge looked rather busy I headed towards the terrace, a great open air spot within the terminal that many shy away from due to lack of power outlets. I headed towards the champagne bar for a glass of the Henriot, and also helped myself to a glass of water from the terrace bar. As is often the case in the First lounge there are promotional tie-ins and today was no exception with some lady handing out vegetable crisps at the champagne bar….she seemed to do a roaring trade, in samples! With a lack of menus on any of tables I flagged down a member of the roving serving staff and ordered my favourite, “The BA Burger” showing where I was located out on the terrace. Around ten minutes later my lunch arrives…
The BA Burger
My father called me whilst I munched on my burger and I watched over to the departure activities below on 09R. From where I was I could also glance over to see the arrivals onto 09L for a brief moment. Relaxing with a decent burger, a glass of nice champagne and watching the planes (with the help of the Flightradar24 app) isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon!
By the time I’d helped myself to a little afternoon tea courtesy of the offerings in the Refectory it was almost time to get my facial.
The Elemis Spa
My skin feeling a little smoother and with samples in hand I was back in the lounge about twenty minutes later. A husband and wife had poached my previous spot right as I was getting up so I sat in a slightly worse terrace spot, not the end of the world as I didn’t have too long until my flight. I opted for a little dessert in the form of ice cream and finished up another glass of champagne before heading out of the lounge around 5pm.
The train was quite busy but I managed to get the prime spot for a quick exit and to the lifts heading up the four floors to the departure level. Despite the oncoming crowds I got the doors closed quickly courtesy of a trick a member of BA cabin crew shared with me. It was only a short walk to B46 where the signs indicated that boarding would start soon. A group of other passengers, some I recognized from the lounge, were hovering slightly in front ready for the Group 1 boarding call. The husband and wife “lounge seat poachers” positioned themselves right in front of me whilst we waited for activity. WWE wrestler, John Cena, arrived in a very well fitted suit and was escorted past us to an area just behind the boarding pass check. When I saw him and the wheelchair passengers head downstairs it was a safe sign boarding was about to start and sure enough within a minute I was on the jetbridge heading for door 2L. The CSD welcomed me aboard and lifted his hand upwards pointing to the upper deck stairs. The “seat poacher wife” was just ahead of me but struggling with two bags that were clearly too heavy, she looks down and berates me for coming too close despite giving plenty of space! She sternly rebuffs any assistance from the cabin crew, clearly because they’d require them to be checked on the basis of weight. She then starts telling the welcoming member of the cabin crew that they must help them switch seats because she and her husband are not sitting together. As they appear to be in row 64 I’m thinking my seat is under threat so settle in rather quickly, go and change into my comfortable clothing and get my bags into the overhead locker. Turns out I’m not subjected to their inability to assign seats and so relax whilst boarding continues.
I took a look at new White Company bedding and put the various accoutrements into the series of side lockers adjacent to my seat. Champagne was brought around in the new stemware with bottles of water following shortly thereafter. 747 Victor Golf is one of the aircraft fitted with the upgraded IFE and so I scrolled through the various options to figure out a little playlist. I started to watch an episode of Top Gear and the gate agent who checked my boarding pass appears in the aisle beside my seat. It emerged that I wasn’t showing as being boarded on the system. He checked my boarding pass and passport against a duplicate that he had printed off, apologized and was on his way. By this time there wasn’t much going on in the cabin and departure time had come and gone, this was followed shortly thereafter by an announcement regarding a technical delay and that besides that issue we were all ready to go.
I spotted the Captain in the galley chatting with the cabin crew and decided to see if I could take a look at the cockpit. About two seconds into my explanation/request the Captain said he would follow me in the direction of his office. In order to avoid scaring the First Officer I let him go first into the cockpit and was introduced. It had been an awful long time since I’d be in a 747 cockpit and I was surprised slightly by the headroom. I sat just behind the First Officer and the three of us chatted for 30mins about a variety of topics (previous commands, Heathrow operations, BA operations etc.) whilst the Turnaround Manager kept us informed of the situation. When the engineer arrived, signaling the completion of the work, I thanked the Captain and First Officer for their time, they wished me a good flight and I returned to my slightly less exciting seat a few rows behind. I arrived just in time to give the member of the cabin crew my main course choice and popped my headphones on to continue with my episode of Top Gear. There was a little confusion because apparently I had pre-ordered the beef main course but I couldn’t recall doing so! Either way it was not a problem. Shortly thereafter I hear a bit of a commotion just behind me and the guy in 63K is losing it with the member of the cabin crew because she forgot to take his meal option!
We slowly taxi around to the threshold of 09R and are on our way New York bound 75 minutes after our scheduled departure time, though based on my chat with the guys up front a quick anticipated flying time meant we would arrive right on schedule. With a quick turn to the south I enjoyed superb views of Heathrow as we climbed over east Berkshire, though sadly the clouds enveloped us quickly so I could not enjoy the views of where I used to call home.
The service started after fifteen minutes in the air with a hot towel and the initial drink and nuts.
Despite 64K being a bulkhead seat and the fact I had the privacy divider up it was dropped for the pass over and then subsequently raised again. This continued around thirty minutes later when the starter tray was handed out, ready for the meal service proper to begin.
It’s another twenty minutes (so just after an hour after takeoff) when the trolley is wheeled out signaling the start of the new service.
I opt for the Loch Fyne smoked salmon tartare to start which is really rather good. I’ve always rated the starters and desserts on British Airways to be the better of the courses, even more so since DO &CO took over the catering on the JFK flights a few years ago. You’ll note the crystal tumbler water glass, another new feature.
The main course, as was fairly predictable, wasn’t quite as good although the Café de Paris was rather delicious! Drinks tops up were rather liberal at every stage…my champagne glass rarely going less than half full.
The chocolate dessert was a nice way to round off the meal but as you can see from the size of the raspberry and how far I had to zoom in it was rather small! After a seven course tasting menu the previous day my waistline was rather thankful though!
By the time dessert was cleared away it was just over two hours into the flight. I had read repeated reports that this new service was agonizingly slow but for an evening westbound crossing it seemed perfectly fitting to me.
With the table stowed away I was able to able to recline a little more and prop my feet up on the sidebins and footstool comfortably relaxed to enjoy the second half of Darkest Hour. The lights were dimmed extremely slowly as we continued the westward crossing.
With the film over I was starting to feel peckish again and was interested to see how the Club Kitchen concept had altered with the new catering. Club Kitchen was introduced in 2006 with the current Club World seat and is usually set up shortly after the main meal service with snacks, drinks and some more substantial items. On the 747 Club Kitchen is set up right by door 2L, so just at the bottom of the stairs. A little turbulence threw the seatbelt sign on for a good 20mins delaying my trip downstairs so I passed the time playing the world’s worst football game on the inflight entertainment. After doing a light raid on the Club Kitchen I settled myself back upstairs and enjoying some real British chocolate whilst flicking through more of the IFE offerings.
Around five and half hours into the flight the lights were slowly brought up and almost immediately found myself being offered the “Refreshment” course, Roast beef with Italian mustard dressing.
This was quite a step up from the packaged sandwiches that had been the staple of this portion of the service since what felt like the beginning of time. Shortly after that was cleared away large bottles of Highland Spring were handed out. It used to be the case that the bottles of water were handed out after the first meal service so either this was a mistake or a small change. Curiously, and for the observant, it was a different brand to the water handed out at the beginning of the flight.
As the flight was coming to a close I opted to watch a couple of episodes of one of my all times favourite programmes, I’m Alan Partirdge, a true classic in awkward British humour. With real clothes to change back into I grabbed my bags from the overhead locker and managed to time everything just perfectly with the 20mins to landing announcement just as I clicked my seatbelt back. I fastidiously checked all the sidebins and storage drawer for any items and craned my head out the window. As is the case with most of my London originating arrivals into JFK we flew over Rhode Island and North Fork of Long Island before tracking along the southern coast. With familiar landmarks established (with no help from the dark!) I had a pretty good idea of our position and it was apparent from one particular turn that we were to approach JFK from the north, most likely for a 22L arrival.
After a couple of tight turns and battling some low level gusts we managed to touch down on 22L right on time! As is often the case when arriving on this runway we had to wait for a gap in the departures rolling off 22R but it was not long before we were on stand over at Terminal 7. I was quickly up from my seat and ready at the bottom of the stairs for a quick exit where I was greeted by Bob Diamond, former CEO of Barclays. He was chatting with the cabin crew as the jetbridge headed our way. The cabin crew held everyone back so that First passengers could disembark first but then maintained the blockade so all the Club World passengers in the first section could leave too…this was despite the fact that Club World surrounded all sections around 2L!
I managed to make up a bit of time on the walk around to immigration and even scored a free Global Entry kiosk next to my new friend Bob. He seemed to be struggling so was half tempted to offer assistance! By the time I was through to baggage claim it was only John Cena and I waiting beside the carousel. A steady flow of passengers joined us before the crew bags arrived. Magically the Priority baggage system seemed to be working quite well as the first gaggle bags were yellow tagged First bags with the orange Club World ones following shortly thereafter. However, the baggage claim lice (one of my biggest flying pet peeves) crowded the belt so tight I had to shout at some people to allow me to get mine…yes, that included the husband and wife “stalkers” that had followed me literally every step from check-in to baggage claim. They’re even in the first picture of this report!
Verdict: Yes, it’s Club World. Yes, other seats have far surpassed it since I first rode in this iteration of seat more than 10yrs ago now. On the face of it even AA have a far superior seat…However, the upper deck windows with direct aisle access and the much improved food and beverage, plus upgraded interiors and IFE…this is BA on their best show in the business class environment and frankly I can’t really fault it too greatly. Since I last wrote about Club World I’ve taken many flights in both Club World and First, all revenue flights. After this flight I considered how much I’d be willing to pay for a premium to fly in First and frankly it really wasn’t very much. Yes, the service is a little more personal, the lounge is a little better and it does feel a little more special but that isn’t much. I’m sure my opinion would be different if I was stuck downstairs in a middle seat, and that’s where Club World loses its shine overall, its inconsistency.