Real-world photo tour: British Airways Club World business class

By John Walton, September 23 2011
Real-world photo tour: British Airways Club World business class

With Qantas cutting connections to London via Hong Kong and Bangkok, Australian business class passengers are going experience more of British Airways' Club World seats, even though BA is reducing its London-Sydney flights from two to one from March next year.

That's because, if you want to connect to London via anywhere other than Singapore, you'll need to fly to that airport on Qantas and continue on British Airways to Heathrow. 

Australian Business Traveller headed to and from London via Singapore recently, so join us on a real-world photo tour showing you exactly what you'll experience in Club World.  

British Airways currently flies twice a day between Sydney and London, with a Boeing 747 via Bangkok and a Boeing 777 via Singapore. By March, however, the Sydney-Bangkok flight will be cut and BA will fly a Boeing 747 via Singapore.

BA has two different 747 configurations. Club World business class is always on the upper deck, plus either one or two lower deck cabins behind the first door.

The seat is the same no matter where you sit on the plane. It's a Z-bed configuration that slides forward and meets a good-sized footrest to become a fully flat bed, 180 degrees parallel to the floor. 

As you can see, the footrest ends flush with the seatback in front of you on most seats.

But some seats have extra legroom, like the one above. That's a real boon for taller passengers.

Want to know which seats are the ones to pick? Check out our insider guides to the best seats in Club World on British Airways' Boeing 747 and Boeing 777 aircraft.

Seats are arranged in a forward-backward herringbone pattern, with window and centre seats facing backwards, while aisle seats face forwards.

BA's theory is that passengers in business class place a higher emphasis on privacy, which is why a translucent divider separates your seat from the person facing you. It can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button, at the top of the picture above.

British Airways' Club World is very much a different concept from BA's oneworld and Kangaroo Route joint venture partner Qantas, where you're facing the same direction as your seatmate but have fewer rows across. There are benefits and tradeoffs to both seat designs, of course.

One of the tradeoffs is that window and centre seat passengers have to clamber out over the legs of the aisle passenger diagonally opposite them.

The two centre seats on the lower deck are close together and really only recommended if you have a +1 with you. They're a little close for comfort for colleagues or business contacts travelling together, although a small privacy screen does extend slightly to separate the two.

However, if the flight isn't full, see if you can snag a pair of centre seats to yourself. It's a great little private mini-cabin, and you can spread your bags, papers and electronic devices over two tables and the seat next to you. Plus, you get an extra power point.

A bonus to sitting in a window seat on the upper deck of the Boeing 747 is that there's a set of storage bins next to each seat, which also serves as a useful work surface during the flight.

The upper deck is also quieter (since it's further away from the engines, at the front of the plane, and has fewer passengers) and feels more exclusive.

You can only select upper deck seats (or, in fact, any seats at all) when booking if you're a British Airways or oneworld frequent flyer with oneworld Sapphire equivalent status -- so BA Silver, Qantas Gold, and so on.

Downstairs on a 747, or in the only cabin on a 777, the seats are eight-across and cover between four and six rows.

Apart from the extra window storage bins and a bit more cabin noise, there's no real difference in the seats.

Your tray table folds out halfway for drinks (including your welcome-on-board glass of champagne or orange juice) and all the way for dinner and to get some work done. It'll comfortably hold even the largest of laptops, including a 17-inch MacBook Pro.

The touch-screen on-demand in-flight entertainment also swings out above the table and angles upwards or downwards, depending on how you like it.

The selection is quite good (though it's not as wide as the newest options from Emirates or Cathay Pacific), with interesting stuff to watch and listen to.

On a recent flight from Singapore to Sydney, we enjoyed actor/singer Hugh Laurie's jazz album, an audiobook of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet and a concert from London's renowned Proms concert series.

Noise-cancelling headphones (reasonably good, and better than just noise-reducing ones) are found in the little drawer by your feet. You'll find the in-flight AC power point there too.

Bizarrely, the power points won't take British/Singaporean/Hong Kong three-pin square plugs. Unlike other airlines flying out of the UK, British Airways doesn't keep spare plug adapters on hand, although they'll be happy to sell you one from their in-flight trolley.   

One problem with the Club World seat is that the drawer is the only place you can keep anything on takeoff and landing, and there's not a huge amount of space there either.

Observant readers will have spotted BA's new Elemis amenity kit in the drawer too. The new brown kits are smaller than the older blue ones, and contain a slightly reduced kit.

British Airways' wine selection has improved markedly in quality over the last year, with two whites and two reds loaded for each flight.

However, that's come at the expense of options: in 2010, there were three of each offered. Champagne is currently either Lanson Black Label (pretty good) and Ayala (pretty bad), whichever is loaded on the day of your flight.

BA's dinner service on the afternoon departure via Singapore is a starter (choice of vegetarian or this delicious scallop and rocket dish), mixed leaf salad with a vinaigrette, and your choice of a warm roll.

British Airways' concept of business class dining is tray-based rather than individually set, and is very much "solid meal, served swiftly, to let you work, sleep or relax", rather than an elaborate dining experience. For that, BA reckons, you should be flying first class.

This beef main course on the return Singapore-Sydney flight was overcooked in the plane's ovens.

Our usual advice is to see if there are enough starters for you to have two of those instead of a starter and a main. It's usually tastier and lighter, probably healthier, and leaves you even more time once the tray is cleared.

On the Sydney-Singapore  afternoon flight, high tea is served: sandwiches and a cake of some form, plus a good strong cup of tea.

(Yes, that's BA's proper British tea in that mug. If you like it weaker, try asking one of the Singapore-based crew, who tend not to brew the tea as strong as their British counterparts.)

On the overnight flight from Singapore to Sydney, you'll get a light breakfast about an hour before arrival.

It's cereal or birchermuesli, a croissant and a bacon roll, plus as much tea or coffee as you can drink before the seatbelt sign goes on for landing.

If you get peckish during the flight, you can also raid the Club Kitchen for sandwiches, chocolate, snacks and salad pots.

The crew pass through every so often with bottles of water too, which is great to keep your hydration levels up.

But when it comes time to land, make sure that you've put everything away that you've been working on during the flight. Just like takeoff, the area around your seat has to be completely clear.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 529

I've never been a fan of BA's Business. It's a strange concept facing someone that you don't know (if you're travelling alone) and even though there is a divider, you have to keep raising it and lowering it when meals are served etc. Give me Cathay Pacific's new reverse herringbone configuration any day! They definitely have got it right!

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 667

Y'know, I really didn't mind it that much, and this is my...eighth? ninth BA roundtrip flying Club? (I used to be London-based, you see...)

In honesty, I reckon that the extra privacy, along the lines of the mini-suite, is a good tradeoff for having to look at someone else occasionally.

Though I'll agree with you -- there are better business classes out there (new Cathay, new Air NZ, Emirates A380, Etihad, Singapore fully flat A380 and 777-300ER). 

There are also many worse business classes out there -- including pretty much anything with a slope-seat, to be honest!

Things have moved on since this cabin was introduced in 2006, and it's probably about time BA changed concept again.

It would make sense for them to update things for the A380 when that's introduced in the next few years, especially if they put Club upstairs, since that could only really be 2-3-2 at the widest.

18 Aug 2011

Total posts 6

Excellent trip report & review, John.

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