Singapore via First and Club on the World’s Favourite Airline
British Airways. Two words that when spoken together either evoke a rose-tinted notion of nostalgia and homeliness, or send chills up the spine and elicit a faint whimper of exasperation from being on the receiving end of one too many IT failures. Once branded as ‘the world’s favourite airline’, following years (some would say decades) of change, the airline has received heightened criticism in recent months as a result of an almighty mismatch between the post-pandemic return of passenger demand and the recruitment of sufficient numbers of staff. Longhaul service has been slow to return and is still not back to anything resembling pre-pandemic service (at least in Club World), whilst flight cancellations, long check-in queues and baggage going astray are all too common occurrences.
Why, you may therefore reasonably ask yourself, am I flying with BA on the second longest nonstop route in their current network, to Singapore? Using an American Express companion voucher, these flights were booked in BA’s incredible value (and since unrepeated) half price Avios sale of October 2020, originally for travel in June 2021. Two flight cancellations and subsequent reschedules later, the trip eventually took place in April 2022. Not having flown BA longhaul since late 2018, I was keen to see first-hand how the pandemic has impacted service in the two most premium cabins BA fly. LHR-SIN
It was a sunny mid-April afternoon as our Uber dropped us at Heathrow T5 a little over five hours ahead of our 21:25 departure. Departing on a notoriously busy Monday, I was keen to ensure there were no check-in related issues, hence arriving earlier than normal. I needn’t have worried, as we were directed to an empty desk on arrival at the First Wing where a friendly agent priority tagged our bags and issued boarding passes, without checking any of the required travel documents as they’d all been uploaded to ba.com in advance of travel. BA’s systems are not particularly good at keeping pace with government restrictions, and so I would always advise checking the FCDO travel advice website (for those based in the UK), coupled with a check of the relevant overseas government’s website (Singapore’s is particularly clear), rather than relying on what can be outdated information on ba.com.
With nobody in front at First Wing security, we were in the moderately busy Galleries First lounge in short order, to find the return of partial self-service for the first time since the pandemic. A new and distinctly temporary-looking ‘market table’ concept had been set up at the front of the oddly named Refectory, offering a selection of alarmingly un-chilled salad and sandwiches, together with soup, other hot dishes and cakes.
Complementing this, snacks were available at the Gold Bar and both Coffee Houses, where self-service drinks had also returned, although only assisted service was available at the Coffee House closest to the entrance from the First Wing.
The Champagne Bar is no longer, having been converted to a high-top laptop table to make up for the fact that the Work and Entertainment Zone was replaced with sleeping pods last year. Self-pour champagne is now found at the Gold Bar and on the First Terrace where a table-top ambient bar has been added alongside the existing chiller.
Options to both eat and drink were still available via the QR code-based waiter service menu, although this has since been scaled back as more self-service options return. As of late July when I last visited the lounge at the time of writing, the Refectory’s buffets remained largely closed to enable lounge staff to plate ordered food from the adjacent kitchen, and the temporary tended bar remained in front of the Wine Gallery.
If this all sounds like a hotchpotch of options and service styles, that’s because it is; it would be much easier (and less confusing for passengers) for BA to return to all self-service, with a selection of to-order items, as was the case pre-pandemic. We can only hope for a return to decent food quality too; the current fare is distinctly school canteen-like for the most part. One exception is the afternoon tea, which we ordered from the online menu and enjoyed on a table that, like a fair chunk of the furniture in the lounge, had seen better days.
Since my last visit to the lounge in October, BA had added some fresh roses in various places which have certainly added a luxurious accent to an otherwise slightly faded space.
With the Galleries First lounge filling up, we headed on foot over to T5B and the Galleries Club lounge on the mezzanine of that satellite building; often a quiet haven away from the busy T5A lounges, that evening was no exception – at one point we had the lounge to ourselves, and there was never more than a handful of groups present.
This lounge hasn’t received much in the way of refurbishment over the years; it has the same carpet as opening day, and a motley collection of furniture mostly from the Galleries and Galleries Evolution concepts, with some new stools from the latest lounge concept and even a few super old Terraces sofas and armchairs recycled from closed lounges (at Gatwick’s North Terminal if I’m not mistaken) if you look hard enough. Truly emblematic of BA’s ‘make do and mend’ ethos.
When we travelled, the T5B lounge had reverted to self-serve drinks from both Coffee Houses, the Silver Bar and the Wine Gallery. Food (with the exception of snacks such as nuts) was all waiter-served via the online ordering system and a temporary service station set up in front of the Chef’s Theatre. Full self-service returned to all of the T5 Galleries Club lounges in August.
A coffee passed the time before boarding, the time of which was easy to gauge thanks to being able to watch our aircraft, a 7-year-old 787-9, G-ZBKD, being towed onto stand at T5C from its daytime visit to the maintenance base.
Boarding at Gate C52 hadn’t quite started when we arrived, although things got under way fairly quickly with Group 1 (First passengers and oneworld Emerald members) called after the obligatory passengers needing more time to board and families with young children. As this gate only has one airbridge, we were met at Door 2L and directed to the left to the mini two-row Club World cabin, located aft of the two-row First cabin.
BA’s fleet of 18 787-9 aircraft are all equipped with very outdated 2006 version of the Club World seat, albeit cosmetically refreshed in keeping with the design found on the 787-8, A380 and Gatwick 777 fleets. The 787s are rumoured to be the next in line to receive BA’s latest Club Suite cabins after refurbishment of the Heathrow 777 fleet completes this year – and this can’t come soon enough.
In a 2-3-2 layout on the 787, these seats lack any kind of storage save a drawer at floor level which is completely inaccessible when the seat is in bed mode. Aisle seats lack privacy, whilst window and middle seats lack direct aisle access, with the exception of those at the rear bulkheads; we luckily had Seats 7AB at the rear of the forward cabin, probably the best pair along with 7JK, despite their proximity to the washroom and galley. BA did not specify personal air vents or even overhead lights in Club World on the 787-9, the only lighting within the seat coming from an adjustable and dimmable reading light over the shoulder. Despite their significant shortcomings, these seats remain pretty comfortable in both seat and bed mode.
Upon boarding, each seat had a bedding pack from The White Company containing a thin and oddly shaped mattress pad and duvet, alongside a comfy pillow and noise reducing headphones.
Pre-poured champagne or still water (with glasses a quarter full…) was offered from a tray and jackets were taken whilst menus, Harrogate still water bottles and The White Company amenity kits were distributed. The amenity kit contents is perfectly adequate, although it would be great if BA offered slippers and PJs on overnight flights.
Whilst we were on the ground, pre-dinner drink and dinner orders were taken, with the friendly cabin crew addressing each passenger by name which is always much appreciated and is particularly noteworthy outside of first class cabins.
A 12h45 flight time was announced by our Captain, who explained that four members of flight crew were onboard today given the length of the flight. We were delayed pushing back due to late cargo being loaded, an issue with the cargo door, and whilst engineers attempted to reset the alarm in the 2L washroom behind my seat; this latter issue couldn’t be fixed, and the washroom was locked out of use for the flight, leaving just the two washrooms at 2R in use for Club World passengers.
Departing an hour behind schedule from Runway 09R, the cabin crew were quick to spring into action with a post-takeoff drink and (packaged) nuts, served on a black plastic tray. I like the crystal glasses BA introduced to the Club World service in 2018, which this evening held a Citrus Burst.
Since reintroducing ‘proper’ catering in Club World post-pandemic, dining in BA’s longhaul business class has been a continuing sorry situation. Due to cabin crew shortages and flights consequently operating with the minimum number of crew, service has been pared back to a one-tray service, even on the longest of flights such as Singapore. There is no choice of starter or dessert, which are served together with cheese and one of three hot main courses all on the same crowded tray at the same time, along with cheap warm bread.
I opted for the braised lamb shank, which like everything on the tray was perfectly fine and edible, but unimaginative, poorly presented and way too small a portion for the length of flight. The less said about the plastic pot of mint sauce and the tiny sachets of salt and pepper contained within the serviette / cutlery wrap the better. The highlight of the dinner had to be the cheese ‘board’, which in actuality was a bowl containing two slim slices of low-quality hard cheese.
It feels odd writing this trip report not to be able to describe in detail the service that accompanied dinner, primarily because there wasn’t any; the tray was plonked down, with everything pre-set including my glass of cabernet sauvignon. Refills were offered, but not particularly proactively given how busy the crew were dishing out trays as a consequence of being short staffed. A second water bottle was offered as trays were promptly cleared, and hot drinks were served. Full Club World service will not be restored until the winter schedule starts at the end of October.
Given one washroom was out of service, the two remaining washrooms were kept relatively clean if you didn’t look too closely at the floors, with wipes, soap and hand lotion (the latter two by The White Company) moved across from the closed washroom. BA specified a tiny changing seat in their equally tiny Club World washrooms, which is better than nothing but not really sufficient for changing into comfier clothing for sleeping.
The cabin crew were happy to hang my clothes on request, and I got a decent rest aided by an uncharacteristically cool cabin.
Upon waking, I pressed the call button for a coffee, which was served with packaged biscuits.
I watched House of Gucci (a solid 7/10) on BA’s Thales IFE system; a noticeably buggy step down from the Panasonic system installed on more recent aircraft deliveries and refurbishments. I did find the system was easier to control on the handset than via the touchscreen, although the handset didn’t like being used when the USB power was in use for some reason. 4 hours out of Singapore, all the divider screens in Club World went down automatically and the IFE reset itself, which was slightly alarming in the middle of a dark cabin. Wifi was available (packages up to GBP22 for the duration of the flight), but was so slow as to be unusable.
With no snack menu beyond a paltry selection of unhealthy packaged options in the Club Kitchen, I was hungry by the time the second meal service was offered around 90 minutes before landing in Singapore. Once again, this is a one tray affair, which replicates the main meal service minus the cheese ‘board’ and crackers. The three-in-one bread roll that is normally offered with the main meal service was served with the second meal service on this flight. From a choice of two hot main courses, I went for the herb roasted chicken breast, which was again fine but far from intercontinental business class standard. With both the Club World and First galleys out of peppermint tea, a green tea concluded the flight.
As we started our descent into Singapore, one of the cabin crew who had been working in First came through the cabin and checked on passengers; I requested another water bottle and was addressed again by name, which was all the more impressive for not having had any interaction with this particular crew member previously.
Parking at Gate D36, we left the aircraft by Door 2L with the crew holding back rear cabins. There was only a short 10-minute wait at immigration, and with our bags amongst the first off we were soon in the taxi queue. An unusual 20-minute wait later, and we were on our way to our hotel with a very talkative driver who was clearly delighted to see overseas visitors to his city once again. SIN-LHR
Before our flight home, we stopped by Jewel Changi Airport, which opened in April 2019 just a couple of months after my last visit to Singapore. The world’s tallest indoor waterfall is certainly an impressive architectural feat, as is the lush planting surrounding the central atrium. It’s nice to see an airport make an effort to welcome visitors who may not necessarily be flying, with plenty of smart shops and eateries (including another outpost of National Kitchen) available within the building, which is easily accessed from all three main terminals, but is most convenient for Terminal 1.
At the time of our flight in April, BA were only serving Singapore once daily, en route to Sydney. I had been able to check-in online, although mobile BPs are still not available on flights departing from SIN, which is quite frustrating. With early check-in temporarily suspended and desks only opening 3 hours before departure, I had counted on being able to check-in with the desks for the outbound SIN-SYD sector, around 4 hours ahead of our 22:35 SIN-LHR departure. This was not an issue thankfully, and we were soon processed at the single First desk where there was only one couple ahead. We were advised that the BA lounge was closed (it has since reopened) and were given invitations to the third party Marhaba lounge.
There was no queue at immigration (note that there is no Fast Track in the event that there is a queue), and we were directed to use the automatic gates to exit Singapore, which is one of the few countries to permit non-citizens to do this (albeit just for exit, not entry).
With the British Airways lounge, Qatar Airways Premium lounge and Qantas International First lounge all still closed at the time of flying, we headed to the Qantas International Business lounge for dinner.
I’ve reviewed this lounge several times before, but since my last visit, the lounge’s main seating area has been extended to offer much needed additional capacity.
We were warmly welcomed at reception and escorted to our choice of seating area, a courtesy extended to Qantas top tier members and those travelling in First cabins – even those on BA it seems! In the (temporary) absence of a First lounge, some lounge seats were reserved especially for F passengers, including a partially screened-off dining area at the far end of the lounge which featured waiter service for the 8 tables within, albeit from the same menu as the rest of the lounge. Taking a pair of armchairs adjacent to the windows overlooking the check-in hall, we were offered a choice of drink, which was served with nuts.
To comply with Singapore’s COVID regulations at the time of our visit, the buffets were all tended. Despite this, the selection looked as good as ever with a number of hot options including two signature choices; the chicken laksa and vegetable dumplings, both of which were great.
There was no dessert menu as such, but our waiter was happy to bring us a mango mousse and crème caramel from the buffet, both of which looked remarkably similar but thankfully tasted very different and not at all as bland as the photos would suggest. This was the perfect light dinner before our flight, although I was sad to miss the First lounge, given it had yet to be launched at the time of my last pre-pandemic visit.
With the Qantas lounge closing a little ahead of our boarding time, we briefly stopped by the Marhaba lounge, located on the opposite mezzanine just along from the Qantas International First lounge. This was a significant ‘meh’ of a lounge, with very limited food offerings, although there was plenty of free seating for us to choose from.
Changi is one of the few airports to operate security at the gate; I’m not a huge fan of this concept, as waiting times can be unpredictable and there often isn’t a priority lane, although thankfully that wasn’t the case this evening at Gate D36 (a recent change from Gate C17). Changi’s security agents are particularly zealous, and for the first time ever my Gillette manual razor was accosted as it had seemingly caused offence, although was eventually let on its way. Once in the gate room, boarding soon started with Group 1 called first.
BA’s 787-9s and 787-10s share the same First cabin; 8 open seats with a sleeker and more elegant design than the product it replaced (still found on 772s, unrefurbished 77Ws and A380s). BA have used the same seat on their new and refurbished 77Ws, albeit they have added a door to this more recent iteration so that they can legitimately call it a suite and compete with their own Club Suite product further back in those aircraft.
Whilst the dark colours look appealing at first glance, the materials used are of unfortunate low quality; my seat (1K) had worn leather trim all over the side console and beige seat surround, and peeling plastic wrap on the most touched surfaces such as compartment doors and the front of the table. 2K’s seat control buttons were barely legible they were so worn. This was the same aircraft that we’d flown outbound, completing its 9-day jaunt to Sydney and back; and aside from the maintenance issues, it could also have done with a better vacuum and wipe down in between sectors.
A pillow and cushion were on my seat on arrival, with a lightweight blanket and good quality Meridian headphones in the side compartment. Full bedding, including a duvet and mattress pad, is provided by the crew on request as part of turndown service. The crew were quick to come by and welcome each passenger, offering a bottle of water, choice of drink, and then handing out PJs and slippers – both by Temperley, although the latter on request only on this flight for some reason.
Disappointingly, no First amenity kits had been loaded, and we had to make do with Club World ones. For posterity, here is what the male and female Temperley kits look like when they are loaded, each featuring a good range of practical items, with cosmetics by Elemis. The male washbag certainly feels more premium to the touch than the female one.
As I settled into my seat with a glass of the very pleasant Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, I took a closer look around my seat. To the right, a large compartment in the side wall of the seat houses two storage cubbies and a handy mirror on the inside of the door.
Below it is a stowage pocket for literature, adjacent to another compartment (confusingly marked ‘no stowage’) which houses two USB ports, a power socket and the headphone jack, and a dock for the wired hand-held IFE controller. Above this compartment are the seat controls which, as with previous generations of the First seat, feature a smart control wheel allowing small intuitive adjustments to the seat recline beyond the usual pre-sets.
The glossy side console, out of which the somewhat small table is deployed, features a table lamp, with other lighting options including a traditional overhead light, an adjustable reading light to the left of the seat, and ambient lighting below the IFE screen.
The IFE screen itself is fixed in position and of good clarity, although this does mean that the manually adjustable footrest doesn’t double up as a buddy dining seat, unlike on the previous generation seat.
A third deep storage compartment can be found to the left of the footrest, with a slimline wardrobe and single hanger in the seat’s side wall. There are no personal air vents. Being a 787, the windows are of the electronic dimming variety, and lack the electronic blinds of the A380 and 777 fleets, which are particularly smart on the latter aircraft.
For all the little maintenance-related niggles mentioned previously, this is a solid hard product with plenty of personal and storage space and privacy, only let down by the relatively small table, lack of personal air vent and the buggy Thales IFE (which was particularly notable when using the handheld remote, mandated by the lack of touch controls for the main screen). In comparison to BA’s latest Club Suite product, for example, this version of the First seat has significantly more personal space.
There is only one washroom for First passengers on the 787, located by Door 1L. Confusingly, there is no indicator in the cabin to let passengers know whether the toilet is occupied or not. Once inside, it’s apparent that the washroom is of standard 787 size, with no window. The only changes over the Club World washrooms are Elemis toiletries (to match those in the non-existent amenity kits), and the use of a black colour scheme for the basin as opposed to grey. The flower holder has been forlornly empty for some years now.
Dinner orders were taken on the ground by the friendly crew, who were the same as those who had operated our outbound flight; their trip had been the same length as ours, albeit with two additional sectors to and from Sydney in the time we’d been in Singapore. As pushback was getting under way, I was asked whether I really did want my main course, as a number of other passengers had ordered it too. This is quite frankly unacceptable in a First cabin of only 8 seats; not so much the crew’s fault for asking, but BA’s fault for under-catering the cabin and putting the crew in a difficult situation. As I didn’t fancy either of the other options, I stuck with my first choice. A 13h20 flight time was announced as the Inflight Manager (BA’s new name for CSDs) came around to personally welcome each passenger by name.
Once in the air, service started promptly with drinks and canapés, set on the side console. At the time of travelling in April, BA’s First menus were still fairly reduced compared to the pre-pandemic offering, with quality also suffering; as of August, service had at last been fully restored, including the elusive hot towels. The canapés were all fine if unremarkable, accompanied by another glass of champagne.
My table was laid for dinner promptly thereafter with an offer of still or sparkling water, and the world’s saddest bread basket / bowl. My water initially came without the requested lemon, but this was quickly remembered and corrected.
My starter of smoked duck was pretty poor; bland in appearance and equally dull to taste.
Things didn’t get much better with the grilled tenderloin of beef, whose baked tomato arrived inexplicably located on top of the meat on a plate that looked the polar opposite of first class. The selection of vegetables served in a bowl made the plate appear slightly cheerier once plated up by me, but the beef’s expected toughness couldn’t be remedied. A glass of the pinot noir accompanied the main course.
As dinner had so far been underwhelming, I attempted to rescue things with both desserts; whilst the vanilla ice cream was basic, the pistachio sabayon and almond sponge was really quite good and looked the best presented plate of the evening. The crew had offered to plate both desserts together, but I’m glad I opted for them separately for the photos. A peppermint tea and Lindt truffle (infamously categorised by BA as a dessert in itself) finished the evening.
With dinner I watched Six Minutes to Midnight, a moderately entertaining war film that passed the time quite effectively. Having just flown a couple of sectors with Qatar Airways on their 77W, I do appreciate the flexibility that BA’s map offers on both the Thales and Panasonic systems; full customisation as opposed to fixed rotating views. BA offer complimentary wifi to all First passengers, which whilst still a little slow, is a gesture even the top airlines could learn from.
As bedtime approached, I changed into the provided PJs in the washroom whilst the crew proactively made up my bed. Another bottle of water was placed by my seat for the night, and when I did get up a couple of times between sleep, the crew refreshed my seat area which is always much appreciated.
Around 7 hours later I ordered a latte, but as so often seems to be the case on BA aircraft, the coffee machine was broken, and so the crew improvised a very respectable hand-made version, delivered with three more Lindt truffles.
My by now empty cup remained by my side for the next almost 3 hours as I got through three episodes of Superstore (one of those plane finds that you never watch on the ground) before breakfast, which commenced around 90 minutes before landing (although can be any time on request in First). My bedding was cleared only on request, despite the crew seeing me change back into civvies in the washroom. I should note that I think it was the relief crew watching over the First cabin at this point, and that the ‘regular’ crew were much more on-it.
For breakfast, I opted for both the fresh orange juice and the ‘energising’ smoothie; only the latter appeared and was not to my taste, so I re-requested the former which whilst more ordinary was definitely kinder on my palette, and was served in a lovely crystal glass.
The bircher muesli and fresh seasonal fruit were both flavoursome, accompanied by some pastries which were of better quality than the dinner bread.
The pancakes, whilst not much to look at, were pretty decent, with the crew apologising for forgetting the garnish which I’m guessing was meant to be mint. A pot of English breakfast tea finished the service nicely.
As we approached Heathrow, our cabin crew came to say goodbye to each passenger, and before long we were landing on Runway 27L and taxiing to Gate C57. A short transit ride later, there was no queue at immigration and our bags were the first two off after a short wait, very much bucking the BA trend of priority baggage handling.
Despite not living too far from Heathrow, I’m not one to pass up the opportunity for an updated lounge review, and so once through customs and landside, we popped up to the mezzanine level and the Galleries Arrivals lounge.
Our arrival was a little chaotic as neither receptionist – both more used to working airside – seemed to know of the Concorde Breakfast Room’s existence and had to ask one of the waiters what the process was to issue invites. Once we’d confirmed our right to enter the hallowed CBR we deposited our bags at the cloakroom to the left of reception and headed for the showers (or ‘hydro spa shower suites’ if you believe the marketing hype) on the far right, through the main lounge seating area.
Not many seem to know of this lounge’s existence, as I’ve rarely seen it overly busy. Barely refreshed over its 14 years of life, the lounge is looking a little dated these days as the updates made to other T5 lounges in the main haven’t materialised here – most obviously in the shower suites themselves which have all the ambience of a mortuary. From the sticky blue lino floors (sans bath mat) to the white plastic walls, non-functioning radio controls, 1990s-style wall hairdryer and broken shower adjustment, my cubicle had certainly seen better days and wasn’t remotely premium. Only the Elemis toiletries could offer a dash of class. That being said, the water pressure and temperature was good and it’s impossible to feel worse off after a shower post-14 hour flight. Clothes pressing was not available for some reason.
With the same access rules (and breakfast menu) as the Concorde Room in departures, the Concorde Breakfast Room offers a slightly expanded menu over the main Galleries Arrivals buffet, all of course waiter service. Whilst the physical space has everything it needs to feel exclusive, the harsh bright white lighting is anything but relaxing. Sometimes I wonder whether any BA senior management ever set foot in some parts of their estate, such is the obviousness of the problems that passengers experience.
For my second breakfast of the day, I went with the Greek yogurt with honey, fresh fruit salad and egg (singular) Benedict. All were fine if basic and not very first class, served without any poise or polish by our waiter who seemed half asleep.
I can see why many passengers would skip the arrivals lounge altogether if their home or hotel was available within a short commute, but despite its several shortcomings, it’s still a much-valued facility for those in need of a shower and a bite to eat before other commitments that day. Concluding Thoughts
It felt great to be travelling longhaul once again for the first time in more than two years. Singapore remains one of my favourite cities, and BA provided a perfectly solid experience, although the pandemic-related cost cutting was noticeable on both sectors, particularly in that dreadful one tray Club World meal service.
Thanks for reading. As always, your comments and questions are welcomed.