Route: London Heathrow (Terminal 4) - Washington Dulles
Airline: British Airways
Flight number: BA293
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 64K (Club World - Business Class)
Distance: 3677 miles
Duration: 8hrs 25mins
Date: Monday 1st January
Photo © Mike Moores
Photo © Paul Langfermann - The Art of Flying Photos
This trip started, as all my other British Airways ones do, 24hrs less a bit on a computer somewhere, checking in online on a quest for the best seats in the house. Fortunately this time around I had help in the form of a shiny BA Gold card and one of the benefits was the ability to pre-assign certain premium seats. As such for this trip I had 64K on the upper deck, with my wife beside me in 64J. It was to be quite a contrast to our outbound trip aboard the 'Flying Youth Hostel', the 777. With our seats confirmed upstairs it was plain to see the flight was to be very empty, only four other people were booked in the bubble adding to that almost private jet feeling that I enjoy so much about the upper deck.
We arrived at the airport a little earlier than I hoped, 1.30pm for a 5pm departure! This was in part due to my father's need to get to Manchester and my mother attending a drinks party! Alas thanks to aforementioned shiny BA card and confirmed business class tickets we'd have a few lounges to mingle about as well as the Molton Brown Spa where we'd get a massage. My father left us at the far end of the busy ramp at Terminal 4 allowing a quick getaway to Zone E, home of the First check-in desks
First check-in at Zone E in Terminal 4*
A uniformed BA staff member directed us to a free check-in agent who welcomed us with a Happy New Year greeting. We chatted away as he processed our documents although it appeared as though his computer was also recovering from the New Year festivities and refused to print off the baggage tags. A short time later and with necessary security formalities out of the way we headed for the Fast Track passage to airside. To my surprise and a first time ever there was not one person in the queue, Kirstin and I walked right to the front! With a shade over three hours to spare before our flight it seemed the most obvious destination was the Molton Brown Spa in the Lounge Pavilion to get ourselves booked in for a back massage each. Despite turning up so far in advance we still couldn't get an appointment booked! I was stunned to find they were fully booked through to 5pm! However it seemed as though we weren't to leave empty handed and we were given a veritable treasure trove of goodies to take away. 2x300ml bottle of Silverbirch body wash and 2x300ml bottles of Ultrasmooth Coco De Mer body lotion EACH! Result!
Wiping away our tears of sorrow ( ) we stopped in by the First Lounge, another BA Gold perk. Fortunately, and for once it wasn't that busy and so we occupied a few seats in the corner close to the television where Sky News was and perused the menu for something to nibble on.
First Lounge in Terminal 4*
It seems as though I have developed something of a reputation for being a champagne and bacon roll fiend but today I had been stopped in my tracks. Bacon rolls were only on offer from the breakfast menu and so I requested a Chicken Caesar salad. I wasn't too sad as I'd managed to squeeze in a few bacon rolls at the First Lounge at Gatwick a couple of days before. I was pleased to see the premium champagne was out in force again, well almost.... a 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blancs des Millenaires was chilling in the bar area beside its inferior ugly stepbrother, the Monopole Blue Top! No prizes for guessing which one I went for
Chicken Caesar salad in the First Lounge in Terminal 4
The salad was pretty tasty and so I ordered a second whilst my wife ordered the asparagus risotto. With not much to do in the First Lounge but drink, eat and watch Sky News I headed upstairs to the so called 'First Business Suite', a locked room with a few internet PCs, fax machines and the ilk. It has a small bar too so those in there for extended periods of time can get a drink.
First Business Suite in Terminal 4*
Back downstairs again and it was time to enjoy a bag or two of Kettle Chips with a glass of the better Heidsieck variety As time rolled on the lounge got a little busier and at 4pm we moved away from the main area close to the TV nearer to the reception where we could see the monitors detailing our flight, after all how much rolling news does one person need in a day!?!?
From where we were sitting we could see and hear the reception staff and as 4.30pm rolled around some other mildly concerned Washington bound passengers enquired as to the status of our soon to be departing flight. Although according to the monitors we were still at the 'Will Board Gate 9' stage the reception staff seemed better informed and said that pre-boards had just started. As such we followed the other passengers closely to the gate.
Around the back of the shops Gate 9 is in an odd place with not much room and barging of the most polite form was necessary in order to reach the gate agent and utilize the premium boarding line. A cabin crew member was ready at door 2L for us checking boarding passes and directed us up the stairs to our own little haven where Gillian & Alex were waiting for us. As I turned the corner I noticed to my utter surprise we were onboard the only longhaul aircraft with the new Club World seats! As boarding had only just commenced I snapped a couple of pictures of the seat. The lady who boarded just ahead of us asked if we'd like our picture taken, and enquired as to whether we were on honeymoon! Sorry love, I'm just an airplane geek!
Gillian came and offered to hang my coat up as I was retrieving a number of essential items from my bag for the flight, as well as the pyjamas. Some may say it is gauche to wear First pyjamas anywhere but their cabin of origin but the fact is they pack down very well into a carry on, save my clothes and act as an all in one napkin!
The privacy of seat 64K is almost unmatched. You could put the privacy screen up and not see anybody for 14hrs!
I settled down into the seat and realised how at sea I felt! I had seen the seat on the internet in picture form but I felt a bit like a small child having a play with every switch to see what did what. Fortunately the airline had anticipated fools like me coming onboard and had made a glossy brochure and placed one at each seat which detailed everything about the new seat and the various positions. The crew came round with pre-flight drinks, where upon I opted for water. I mentioned the new seats to Alex and she said it was the first time she had seen them on an operational flight.
There were a few nice touches to the seat:
-The overhead lights (that were often misaligned on the old configurations) had been removed and were replaced by a small light above the right shoulder. This was able to be positioned and had a nifty dimmer sliding switch.
-The tray table was very large and had an exceptional reach
-Decent sized laptop locker at foot level with ability to store a number of electronics or books.
-Colour scheme. Looked great on the aircraft itself, especially as it was so new. However the very pale shells to the seats could mark very easily and the crew had concerns about this.
By this time boarding was over and there were only six of us upstairs and with two FAs we were bound to be well looked after. Hot towels were handed out soon after the safety demonstration was carried out. On BA's new 10.4 inch screens it looked much bigger than previous, in fact any bigger and it'd have been overkill. A for the choice of PTV size.
Lima November taxied across to runway 27L where we waited for a Swiss Airbus to leave before turning out at 5.30pm on the dot ready for departure into the damp Middlesex skies. From the starboard side of the aircraft I had a great view of the newly developing areas around Terminal 5 and beyond, but all too soon it was over as we were enveloped by cloud. Washbags were handed out first with menus and a few minutes after takeoff I switched on the new style light and found a comfortable lying position. The new large footstool made it very easy to find a position to lounge about in and makes a nice fit between the old Club World and First seats in this respect. A definite improvement I perused the menu in anticipation of our orders being taken:
Loch Fyne smoked salmon with mustard dressing
Roast vegetable and tomato fraiche with basil and crème fraîche
Fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette
Grilled fillet of beef with asparagus, carrots and blue cheese gnocchi
Shaun Hill's smoked haddock and prawn fish pie
Penne pasta with cherry tomato sauce
Main course salad of Cajun chicken with peppered pineapple and spicy tomato dressing
Apple pie with crème anglaise
Cropwell Bishop Stilton and French Brie cheese
A selection of fruit
One of the first formalities to be carried out was related to customs and immigration with the Cabin Services Director coming around to hand out forms as per necessary. Personally I'd like to see the Cabin Services Director make a bit more of an effort with talking to the passengers and this would be an ideal time to do so, especially on a lightly loaded flight such as this.
Gillian and Alex made a first drinks round as the CSD came around, I opted for my favourite champagne cocktail, the Kir Royale knowing that I was driving upon our arrival it was to be my last alcoholic beverage of the journey A packet of macademia nuts were also handed out at this time.
A post takeoff Kir Royale and packet of macademia nuts
Eventually the hamsters got up to speed and the AVOD system was switched on, this was another first for me and I was keen to try it out, having never used an aircraft based on demand system before. Glancing through the various movies on offer was new to me and the choice was excellent, loads of oldies as well as new releases. I settled for 'Little Miss Sunshine', a movie that I was keen to see but had somehow slipped past me during its initial release.
Little Miss Sunshine on pause - this shows the touch screen capability of BA's new Rockwell Collins AVOD system
Orders were taken from the front of the cabin, unlike some trips where they are done by frequent flyer status. I guess with the light load today there were no worries about running out of choices, United take note!! I went for the smoked salmon and pasta. Usually I wouldn't go for something as plain as pasta but experience has taught me anything much fancier (especially in Business Class) usually ends up tasting pretty bad. Stick with easy, straightforward things that are hard to cock up and you won't be disappointed!
Not long after my smoked salmon arrived, along with the offering of a top up for my Kir Royale. I felt obliged to be responsible and ordered a glass of water Alex came around with a bread basket as well. Oddly enough the tray already had some Green & Black's chocolate on it for dessert! The salad had a few cucumbers and sliced tomatoes which were rapidly removed and substituted by a positive drowning in lime based salad dressing which wasn't half bad either. A good start tonight
Loch Fyne smoked salmon with mustard dressing, salad with lime dressing & Kir Royale
The salmon was very tasty but not quite as good as the kinglas variety I'd had in First a few months back. The cut was quite different but it still tasted very good, especially with the mustard dressing which surprisingly complemented it very well
Next out was the main course, and again another drinks top up was offered. Gillian and Alex were looking after us very well By now we had been in the air about an hour and settling in nicely.
Penne pasta with cherry tomato sauce
Pasta was fine, I mean something must really be wrong if professional caterers manage to screw up pasta! I played safe with it and it had paid off. My pasta dish was cleared away along with my now finished salad. It turned out the dessert chocolate option was the small Green & Black's bar that arrived with my salad and smoked salmon a couple of courses back. It was pretty small but I knew Club Kitchen would soon be stocked with ice cream to help me through the flight . A fruit basket was offered with the tea/coffee drinks round after dinner and I helped myself to an apple to go with my coffee.
Dessert - An apple, Green & Black's chocolate and a coffee
I did ask Gillian about the ice cream in Club Kitchen but she said that it was not setup quite yet and it is standard procedure to set it up after dinner. She said she'd go and have a look for me though and a jiffy later Alex was back with a small tray of chocolate ice creams for me . She advised it was still a little frozen and that I should wait a little while so I became proactive. I sat it on top of the coffee mug which helped thaw it a little faster.
Coffee, Purbeck chocolate ice cream and Green & Black's chocolate make for a tasty post-dinner snack
At this stage the CSD came on the PA system and said that the AVOD was not working at a number of seats and the system would have to be reset. About 15mins proceeded and I decided to fire up my mp3 player which gave me some grief so I switched it off again and waited for the AVOD system to come back to life. Selecting 'Little Miss Sunshine' from the menu it recognised it had been stopped midway through and asked if I wanted to return to the spot where I left off. Alas I couldn't get it to work out and so had to fight my way through using the slightly awkward fast forward buttons.
After the movie was over I went downstairs to stretch my legs and have a look at the 'Club Kitchen' besides door 2L. It was smaller than I thought although it offered quite a range of snacks inside the chilled section, as well as champagne and wine. I think BA could make it a real feature if it was available as close to boarding as possible. That way on Sleeper Service flights those who miss out on pre-flight dining could get a snack right away and sleep as soon as possible
Club Kitchen - A new concept for the next generation of Club World
After this I went back upstairs for a nap. I tried out the bed in the new 6' 6" elongated, not quite flat-bed mode. This was partly because I couldn't get the main part of the seat to go completely flat and partly because it sounded a bit different. If it weren't for the fact we were experiencing quite heavy turbulence and the seatbelt sign was on I might have retreated to another one of the window seats.
I slept remarkably well under the combination of new duvet and bed, got about three hours sleep, just enough so that I wasn't going to end up in a ditch along Interstate 95 somewhere in Northern Virginia! Just as I woke the afternoon tea service was coming round, it was a little earlier than usual, whilst we were still over Canadian territory, but it was nice to wake up and eat a couple of sandwiches with some coffee.
Sandwich selection of crayfish with lemon mayonnaise and rocket and Cheddar cheese with pickle
Salad of grilled marinated artichoke and asparagus
Farm house fruit cake
Ground coffee, decaffeinated coffee or tea
Selection of herbal teas - peppermint, blackcurrant, apple or camomile and honey
A shame the crews can't unwrap the sandwiches and put them on a nice plate as it'd make a lot of difference to the aesthetic quality of them. Alas they tasted pretty good, the food seems to be on the up, not quite how I remember it from say five years back but a small improvement is a start!
Sandwich selection of crayfish with lemon mayonnaise and rocket and Cheddar cheese with pickle and cup of coffee
Whilst nibbling on my sandwiches my wife told me about the 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' game on the IFE. Being a big trivia fan I had to try this out I did manage to get to the £1m question and breathed a sigh of relief knowing I was about to showered in streamers and handed a large case of money as the final £1m question was aviation related. But....I got it wrong
'Is that your final answer?'
In a bad mood now ( ) I decided to try my hand at the near impossible mini golf game...putting a ball through the clown's mouth it wasn't! As we passed over Connecticut I decided it was time to change back into my clothes and freshen up. I took almost as long as my wife would to get ready and was half expecting to be accosted by one of the flight attendants! Upon returning to my seat it transpired the CSD had been round and had a chat with my wife. She had also been given a survey and asked her thoughts on the new seats. Hopefully BA will listen to the combined comments of my wife and I as well as the other passengers. It seemed as though the other staff were also keen to find out what the passengers liked and disliked about the seats and they seemed pretty open about sharing their positive and negative views too.
Our approach into Dulles was an interesting one. We came in from the north, passing east of the airfield which was clearly visible off to starboard side. The parallel concourses were very pretty distinctive and aircraft could also be seen on approach and departing the airfield as well as the lights of runway 30 that became visible for a short period.
Flying in a southerly direction, due east of Dulles. The lights of the concourses are clearly visible.
We turned south east of the airfield, in a rather sharp manner, and came in on runway 1R. The taxi round to just off gate D32 was brief and before long the mobile lounges were in place to deposit us at the immigration point. As we waited to go down the stairs I decided to have a final look around my seat. Thankfully I did as I found the headphone connector for my Bose headphones down by my seat! That was a close one!
The upper deck of G-BNLN
Alex and Gillian wished us well and we got onboard the mobile lounge at door 2L. It looked as though the First passengers had their own bus which left first out of the three that had to come to the aircraft's side. We were descending away from the plane and about to drive off when the we had to go back and collect a few stragglers that couldn't fit on the third lounge. It turned out this cost us a few minutes at immigration as all the World Traveller passengers made it there ahead of us.
As a newly minted US Green Card holder I was eligible to use the US Citizens line which was far longer than the non-US citizens counterpart A few idiots didn't seem to know the drill, waiting at the head of the line to be called forward instead of waiting at the desk of each individual immigration officer. One particular frequent flyer ended up in a slanging match with another passenger who decided to ignore the advice of the more experienced individual to help save time. Based on the eyebrow raising exchanges I was surprised they didn't beat each other up in the baggage hall!
It took perhaps ten minutes for us to pass through immigration where to my surprise our bags were already off the carousel and waiting for us That doesn't happen very often at Dulles! All that was left to do was pass through customs and catch the shuttle back to the Hilton where we had left our car a week previous.
A few post flight bits to look at:
Starting from the back: The Molton Brown goodies I received as an apology for not getting an appointment (my wife got the same amount), the latest incarnation of the Club World amenity kit. Front row from left to right: Menu, Club Kitchen information and wine list
Well this one is going to be a little different to my usual verdicts. I am going to have a separate one for the seat, and another for the rest of the aspects.
-The cushioning is that bit more comfortable, the old seat was given new padding in 2005 but it was an aftermarket affair and didn't fit too well. This new version is much better and fits well.
-The colour scheme is really nice and I like the brushed aluminium look to a number of parts of the seat such as the light and dimmer slide. The blue and white/beige go nicely together too.
-No more misaligned lighting as overhead lighting is completely gone.
-No more small drinks table that was practically an accident waiting to happen.
-10.4 inch IFE screen is superb. A perfect size for the position relative to the viewer.
-Laptop drawer is now very useful and can fit more items that a regular traveller may bring.
-Dining table has a much better reach and is much larger.
-AVOD is a really good system. In my admission I've never used one before but it was very simple to pick up and the choices were very good.
-Footstool whilst more versatile does feel rather flimsy, even just whilst resting feet on it I felt I was putting a little too much pressure on it.
-There are no more elasticky pockets. A useful place for newspapers and washbags on the old seat was an elastic pocket on the underside of the footstool. This is gone and has been replaced by a non-elastic one that is only good for magazines and the ilk. Those could cause problems for those in the middle seats.
-While I said I really liked the colour scheme I think it will mark very easily. Looks great now, but in 6 months time, perhaps not.
-Divider screen is quite noisy, I'm pretty certain it'd wake your neighbour if they were asleep.
-The bathrooms haven't been refurbished.
Other aspects of the flight:
The passage through Heathrow was exceptionally easy and the facilities are still pretty good. The fact the Molton Brown Spa gets so booked up is annoying but at least now the goodies make up for it somewhat.
The crew on this flight were really good; friendly, proactive and willing to help. A credit to the airline
Here are a couple of extra links that people might find useful:
British Airways New Club World website - www.newclubworld.com
My Imagestation Album from this flight - here
Photos of the New Club World Booklet that was handed out:
Page 1 - Welcome to a cabin with a difference
Page 2 - A gastronomic experience
Page 3 - A relaxed working Environment
Page 4 - Help yourself to a tasty snack
Page 5 - Sit back and be entertained
Page 6 - Drift off in total comfort
Page 7 - A seat designed with your comfort in mind
Page 8 - The seat
Feel free to ask any questions! As far as I am aware this is the first trip report about this new generation of Club World on the internet
* - Denotes picture taken on previous trip
[Edited 2007-01-03 06:39:51]