British Airways' new Club Suite business class is arguably the airline's biggest leap forward since it created the world's first lie-flat business class seat almost 20 years ago.
When BA pulled back the curtains on this long-awaited and long-overdue replacement for its crowded Club World business class, we described the Club Suites recipe as "more space, more privacy, more posh" – and now that these next-generation seats are flying on BA's new Airbus A350, Executive Traveller can confidently confirm this is a winning trifecta.
You'd hope so, given that this is the crowning piece in BA's £6.5 billion investment program – an unprecedented cash splash that's also seen new lounges, inflight meals and bedding and more.
British Airways' Airbus A350 has 56 Club Suites split across two cabins, in a standard 1-2-1 arrangement, so that every passenger has direct access to the aisle – and, unlike the previous Club World seat, no traveller has to sit backwards.
The business class cabin feels open, despite the tall walls surrounding each seat and the fact that BA has opted to keep the central overhead luggage bins (good news for passengers in the middle seats) rather than follow the lead of some airlines and do away with them, in order to play up the A350's cavernous room-like interior.
The Club Suites themselves shake off the antiseptic off-white and grey colour scheme of the old Club World seat for a modern, sophisticated palette of warm silver, grey and charcoal, with an inset woodgrain-patterned panel running along the side of the console plus trim in BA’s almost-signature bright anodised silver. The overall effect is muted and classy.
Each Club Suite has its own sliding door – ironically, something that even BA’s first class suites lack – which is 45 inches (115cm) tall.
That's enough to give you plenty of privacy and a sense of real seclusion without making you feel too hemmed in, especially as the seats are angled away from the door. However, anybody walking past – be they crew or passenger – will still be able to see into your suite.
The door doesn't close completely – there's a slim gap between the leading edge of the door and the seat's curved shell, which we're told is a safety requirement.
A switch towards the rear of the seat closes and opens the door, although unlike the business class suites of many airlines there's no Do Not Disturb indicator on the outside so that crew know to leave you alone.
The inside of the sliding door and the seat shell surrounding the passenger are lined with a soft noise-reducing felt material to help the transformation from business class seat to sleep-friendly cocoon.
The seat itself is 21 inches wide – a little more so than BA's current Club World seat – with a total of 27 inches to spread out once both armrests are lowered.
It's superbly comfortable: well-padded, with an elegant quilted pattern on the rear cushion, flanked by leather-clad armrests.
In fully-flat bed mode, the seat stretches out to 79 inches (2 metres) and is dressed in BA’s latest ‘sleep service’ products from The White Company including a mattress cover, duvet and woven blanket.
While passengers will have to swap the ‘open bed’ design of today’s Club World for a more constrained enclosed footwell at the end of the bed, there's space enough for plus-sized pods – although don’t expect much wiggle-room to cross your feet at the ankles, for example.
One very welcome change from its Club World predecessor is that the Club Suite boasts plenty of storage space.
Pop open the panel just behind your shoulder to reveal a compartment well-suited to your amenity kit, with a mirror mounted inside the door.
On the shelf next to you there's a small shallow nook where we could imagine many passengers popping their reading glasses, passport wallet and other small odds and ends.
Next to this, a deeper compartment houses the controller for the inflight entertainment system plus a headphone jack, as well as an AC power outlet and two USB sockets, making is a good place to stow your smartphone while it gets an en route recharge.
A slight gap between the lid and the surrounding panel lets you run cables out to your tech yet close the hatch without pinching or snagging the cord, so that the entire surface of the table remains useful.
Down near your feet is a small water bottle compartment.
Finally, British Airways says the space under the footrest can be used to hold a small laptop bag or purse during taxi, takeoff and landing.
A small touchscreen panel just ahead of one armrest adjusts the seat and includes three quick presets for takeoff/landing, a reclined 'lazy Z' lounge mode and the fully flat sleeping position.
We noticed a slight incline in what would usually be considered the 'upright' position, which is immediately more relaxing than actually sitting bolt upright.
Yet another win over the old Club World seat: with the 18.5-inch HD video screen fixed in place, passengers can enjoy movies and TV shows on a 'gate to gate' basis instead of having to have the screen folded out of the way for taxi, take-off and landing.
The tray table extends from under the video screen and is large enough to accommodate a 17-inch laptop.
It can also be partially retracted, making it easier to get in and out of the seat without pushing the table all the way back (a handy feature during the meal service or when you've set up your laptop).
As we've noted in our Best Seats guide for British Airways' Airbus A350 Club Suites, some of window seats (specifically at rows 1, 9, 10 and 15) have two windows instead of just one.
The paired middle seats (E and F) are angled towards one another, with a sliding privacy screen which can be opened for sociability if you're travelling with a partner (you'll be able to see and chat with one another without having to lean too far forward or back)...
... or kept closed if you're flying solo.
Finally, if you need to turn BA's A350 Club Suite into your office suite, there's inflight WiFi at the ready, starting from £4.99 for one hour through to £14.99 for a 'flight pass' at speeds suitable for Web browsing, email, messaging and social media, with streaming speeds from £7.99 for one hour to a £23.99 'flight pass'.
British Airways is flying its first Airbus A350 between London and Madrid throughout August, ahead of the A350's debut on the London-Dubai route from September 2 (as BA106/BA107) and London-Toronto from October 1 (as BA92/BA93), while a refitted Boeing 777 is expected to take on the London-New York route – and Virgin Atlantic's own new Airbus A350 Upper Class – in late October.