Welcome to this report, which concerns British Airways Club Europe. The report is copied out below, with a selection of photographs. Further photographs are available at the following link: https://www.portcullismagazine.com/all- ... nd-delight Introduction:
British Airways has been subject to a great deal of bad publicity lately. The carrier's oft-maligned decision to begin charging for snacks and drinks in Euro Traveller (short haul economy) has left a bad taste in the mouth of many a frequent flyer, while the recent high-profile breach of passenger data earned the airline wall-to-wall media coverage for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, I was keen to try out British Airways for myself and duly booked a return trip (four flight segments) from Newcastle to Stuttgart in order to sample their European product. Getting to the Airport:
With my flight scheduled to depart at a highly civilised hour (11:45), getting to Newcastle Airport necessitated little more than an easy half-hour, post-rush hour drive. I arrived at 09:35, to find the check-in desks already open and only lightly patroned. Check-in was, therefore, swift and easy and I was delighted to receive my boarding pass in a proper ticket jacket - a small touch of class which is, alas, disappearing from many airlines.
There is, alas, very little to say about NCL beyond noting that it is fairly typical of British airports insofar as it feels dingy, cheap, overcrowded and distinctly unpleasant. These fundamental problems are compounded by the prevalence of low-cost carriers at the airport, whose clientele are catered for by a number of airside bars. These are usually well-frequented and rowdy by 10:00 and I often find myself sparing a thought, for the poor crew of the Jet2 flight to Mallorca...British Airways Terraces Lounge:
Most airlines serving Newcastle make use of the 'Aspire' lounge (including Air France and KLM), but British Airways provides a dedicated facility for its passengers. Following a particularly chaotic experience at security, I made my way there immediately - although it is worth noting that the lounge is located through a "no return" door, meaning that any duty free shopping should be done before proceeding there, as you shan't be allowed back into the main departure lounge. Above: An overview of the lounge.
It being mid-morning, a selection of breakfast options was available, including croissants, muesli and yoghurt, along with a variety of crisps. An impressive selection of drinks was also available, from tea and coffee to wine and whisky. A limited selection of complimentary literature (magazines and newspapers) was also to be found, although anyone wishing to read something more substantial could borrow a book from the small library adjacent to the bar.
Being keen to sample the onboard catering, I was happy to skip breakfast in the lounge, contenting myself instead with a cup of tea, followed by a glass of Château de Malleret 2011 Haut-Médoc - a rich and smooth Bordeaux, but one which falls short of the Chateau Haut Condissas Prestige Médoc served by Air France at Paris CDG.
For reasons which were (as yet) unknown, it soon became clear that the inbound flight from London to Newcastle had been delayed by approximately half an hour. With a fairly long connection time at Heathrow, this was not too concerning initially. Flight No.1: NCL-LHR, BA 1327, Airbus A320:
Eventually my aircraft (G-EUYH, an Airbus A320 delivered new to British Airways in 2010) arrived, so I made my way to the gate in anticipation of boarding.
Boarding began at approximately 11:50 - five minutes after our scheduled time of departure. I was greeted at the door by the friendly purser and quickly found my seat (4F).
It was during boarding that British Airways began to distinguish itself from the competition. I have previously flown with Lufthansa, SWISS, Air France and KLM in their respective European Business Class products and have never received a proper hot towel prior to departure. On occasion, I have received a cold wipe aboard Air France, but the distribution thereof has been inconsistent and unpredictable. Top marks for British Airways here.
Once boarding was complete, the Captain explained apologetically that the flight had been delayed on account of the aircraft's late arrival in London from Larnaca, followed by a baggage issue at Heathrow. Pushback came around forty minutes later than scheduled, followed by a slow taxi to the runway, where we waited at the threshold for a further 15-20 minutes. Once again, the Captain provided an explanation and, once again, the culprit was the afore-mentioned baggage problem at Heathrow, which would necessitate each bag on our flight being entered into the BA system manually by staff at Newcastle before we could take off.
With the problem solved (at least, in Newcastle), we took off powerfully from Newcastle and were treated to excellent views across the North East countryside. This was followed by a left-hand turn to put us on course for Heathrow. Above:
As one would expect, service began swiftly on this short flight to London and the two excellent Club Europe flight attendants sprang into action as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off to begin serving lunch. I opted for the chicken salad, which was served with avacado and hummus, a small side salad and a simply delicious caramel mousse for dessert.
Both the quality and quantity of the food was impressive - better than that which is served aboard Air France (although I am loathe to admit it!) and miles ahead of anything I have ever been served on KLM. British Airways recently switched catering suppliers and this meal was provided by 'Do&Co', an Austrian company which is well-regarded in the airline industry and also provides in-flight meals for both Turkish Airlines and Austrian Airlines. Based on this meal (and others during my trip), British Airways have made an excellent decision.
I chose to pair my salad with a glass of Champagne. British Airways serves Champagne Castelnau Réserve in Club Europe - a fine Champagne, but not quite as good as the Laurent Perrier served aboard Air France.
By the time I had finished my excellent lunch, the Captain had already announced the beginning of our descent towards London Heathrow and I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the gentleman next to me as we approached the airport and the crew set about preparing the cabin for landing. As is only to be expected, we spent around ten minutes circling over southern England before being cleared to approach Heathrow.Above:
Passing over Central London is one of the highlights of any flight into Heathrow - provided, that is, the skies are clear! In this photograph, Tower Bridge, the Shard, the Gherkin, London Bridge and HMS Belfast are all visible. Transfer at London Heathrow:
Following landing and a ten-minute taxi to Terminal 5A, things began to take a bad turn. In light of the (approximately one hour) arrival delay, my connection time had already been almost halved. Upon our arrival at the gate, I had intended to make a speedy exit, lest my connecting flight be scheduled from one of the two satellite terminals (5B and 5C), but unfortunately another apologetic address from the Captain was incoming. It turned out that there was a new problem, as nobody had turned up to attach the jetbridge to our aircraft. It would be another ten minutes before the cabin door was opened.
Once disembarkation was made possible, I thanked the crew and hurried into the terminal building. To my relief, it was not necessary to re-clear security and I quickly found myself airside. However, to describe the scene with which I was faced as chaotic would be an understatement; the terminal seemed full to bursting and navigating my way through the heaving throng of travellers was a feat very nearly worthy of Shackleton...
British Airways operates two 'Galleries' lounges for Business Class travellers in Terminal 5A at London Heathrow; one at the north end of the building and the other at the south end. My connecting gate was close to the latter, so I hurried there in the hope of relaxing for twenty minutes or so and finding out more about the mysterious baggage issue.
It was early afternoon upon my arrival and although the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, the lounge itself was rather busy and it took me a while to find a free seat. With only a limited amount of time before my connection to Stuttgart, I found the nearest bottle of Bordeaux, poured myself a glass and then made my way to the help desk in the hope of finding out more about the disruption.
As it turned out, there had been a rather serious problem with the baggage system at London Heathrow earlier in the day, affecting quite literally thousands of travellers. The kind lady at the desk was unfortunately unable to confirm that my baggage would make it to my connecting flight and advised me to inquire again at the departure gate. Above:
A rather poor mobile photograph of the food bar inside the Galleries lounge, taken to illustrate the general layout.Flight No.2: LHR-STR, BA 920, Airbus A320NEO:
My flight to Stuttgart was scheduled to depart from Gate A23, and I made my way there in good time after an all-too-brief stay in the lounge. I must admit that, when I booked this flight, I did not pay particular attention to aircraft type and was pleased to discover later that this segment would be operated by an Airbus A320NEO - a new type for me. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture a clear photograph of my aircraft, but it was registered G-TTND, being delivered new to British Airways in July 2018.
Although I did consult with the gate agent about my baggage, there was, unfortunately, still no further information to share. Boarding began a few minutes late and, even then, passengers were held on the jetbridge while final preparations were made. Once aboard, I was greeted by the friendly purser and made my way the short distance to Seat 1F.
Following some further delay, service once again began with the distribution of hot towels. It is worth noting, however, that A320NEO aircraft are not fitted with a central console between seats in Club Europe - a welcome staple aboard older aircraft. Above:
Pushback. While I was unable to capture a decent photograph of my own aircraft, G-TTNB, delivered in April 2018, is also a NEO and was parked close by. The safety demonstration was performed manually, as the NEO does not feature drop-down screens.
5-10 minutes after pushback, we began our taxi to Runway 27L, joining a long line of aircraft queuing for departure. A quiet, but powerful, takeoff followed around twenty minutes later.
A smooth and quiet climbout from London Heathrow followed. G-TTND is fitted with two CFM LEAP-1A26 engines, which each produce approximately 27,000lb of thrust. Compared with older A320 variants, this aircraft is whisper-quiet.
The seatbelt sign was turned off fairly swiftly and, having spoken with him during boarding about the NEO, the Purser invited me to take a walk to the rear of the aircraft to examine the new slimline seats in Economy. One of the flight attendants at the rear of the aircraft kindly pointed out the less-than-impressive features thereof before I returned to the Club Europe cabin in anticipation of Afternoon Tea. Above:
Afternoon Tea is served. Once again, the quality of the food was excellent. I should point out that fresh scones are also offered to complete the meal, which I declined. There was more than enough time on this flight to consume two bottles of Champagne, and the crew kindly provided me with a third to take with me for later.
Once again, the crew aboard this flight was fantastic and I cannot compliment the flight attendants highly enough. Both gentlemen serving the Club Europe cabin were extremely pro-active (being quick, for example, to provide a fresh bottle of Champagne upon noticing that the first was empty) and took time to converse with passengers. The two flight attendants serving the economy cabin, with whom I had enjoyed a short chat about the NEO earlier, were also superb.
I would have gladly stayed aboard for another hour or more, but, all too soon, the Captain announced that we had begun our descent towards Stuttgart.
Following a smooth landing and a short taxi, we arrived at the terminal building. I thanked the crew for their excellent service and then disembarked. Unfortunately, as soon as I turned on my mobile phone, I received a text from British Airways informing me that my baggage was still in London and would arrive the following day. This was unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected given the scale of the disruption at Heathrow. Filing a report took only five minutes and I was soon on my way. Conclusion:
Ignoring the baggage disruption, which was an irregular event, British Airways provides an excellent Business Class service within Europe. Without exception, crew members were friendly, engaged and incredibly pro-active, while the Do&Co catering is better than anything I have eaten on comparable flights. Moreover, the consistent inclusion of proper hot towels as part of the onboard service is a welcome touch which, although small, serves to further distinguish British Airways Club Europe from the competition. My only significant complaints would be that, even in Business Class, seat selection prior to check-in is subject to an extra fee and the lounge at Heathrow was a little too busy for my liking. That aside, I would have no hesitation in recommending Club Europe - it is a delightful experience and up there with SWISS in terms of quality.