Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways A380 Club World

07/10/2013

BACKGROUND

British Airways has ordered 12 Airbus A380 superjumbo aircraft, all of which will arrive by 2016. The first arrived in July, the second in August and the third is due in November. A further five are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2014.

Los Angeles was BA's first A380 route, and it will see a double daily service next year. This review is for Club World (business). To see a review of what it is like to fly First on the A380, click here.

BA A380 takes off

ARRIVAL

I arrived absurdly early at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles Airport — at 1000 for my 1715 departure on BA292.

It was, in fact, so early that the BA check-in wasn't open (it opens at 1145, I was told). But as I had my boarding pass on my smartphone (using BA's app), I could pass through security. North security was shut, so I went to south security, and was through in ten minutes.

Immediately after security is the elevator for the Skyteam Lounge but walk a bit further, past the sign for the new Star Alliance Lounge, and you'll find the Oneworld Lounge via another elevator on level 5. To read a review of the lounge, click here.

BOARDING

By the time I reached the gate at 1700, the flight was already boarding. I was using my smartphone for a boarding pass, but since I had checked-in online needed to have my passport examined before I was let on.

As I was on the upper deck, I took the escalator up from level 4 to level 5, to board the aircraft. There was a long queue on the air bridge and we waited for a few minutes before being let onto the aircraft. I couldn't see what the problem was.

The A380 carries a total of 469 passengers, being 303 economy (World Traveller), 55 premium economy (World Traveller Plus), 97 business class (Club World) and 14 First.

I was in the second Club World cabin on the upper deck, backing onto World Traveller Plus. My jacket was taken and I was offered water, orange juice or champagne. While the rest of the passengers made their way down the narrow aisle, I read a book.

THE SEAT

My seat was 58B, an aisle seat, but a lady in 58D (also an aisle seat) wanted to sit with her husband, so once the crowd has passed through I said I would move.

The seating configuration on the upper deck is the same as on the B787, namely 2-3-2, but there are differences in the sizes of the seats and the storage. To see a seatplan of the entire aircraft, click here.

BA A380 rows 59 and 60

Above and below: Row 59 in Club World backs onto Row 60 in World Traveller Plus

BA A380 rows 59 and 60

The first thing I noticed about seat 58D was that I could not fit my laptop into the footlocker as normal. This meant I had to keep it in the locker above my head, putting it up there whenever it was not in use, as opposed to slipping it in the drawer and keeping it on charge.

One other point — although there are three washrooms for these two cabins, the rear cabin actually only has one, on the right-hand side, unless you walk through the cabin in front. The front cabin has two large washrooms (and if these were busy you could always use the one between the two cabins), and is to be preferred for this reason. In one of these large washrooms (on the left-hand side) is where Emirates put its famous shower.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

As mentioned, there are two Club World cabins on the upper deck (rows 50-53 and rows 56-59) and one on the main deck (rows 10-15), and while this review has points which apply to all three cabins, I think it's fair to say the experience will differ between each.

BA A380 upper deck front cabin aisleTo take one example. On the main deck the seating configuration is 2-4-2 which is more dense than the 2-3-2 upstairs, but the aircraft is wider on the main deck. On the B747-400, the configuration on the main deck is also 2-4-2 but you have an extra 20 inches on the A380 main deck, and that makes a real difference to the feeling of spaciousness. Upstairs on the A380 upper deck, there is 71 more inches than upstairs on a B747-400, but the configuration can't be compared, because it has risen from 2-2 to 2-3-2.

The slightly cramped feeling (at least, for those used to Club World on the B747-400 and B777) is less noticeable in the window seats, which have the windows (obviously) but also side compartments for storage. In the aisle seats, however, you do feel cramped, partly because the aisles feel narrow. You'll notice this particularly as you walk into this cabin from the front and see the protector for the footstool for aisle seats 58B and J.

As previously noted, you lose out on storage in the foot compartment, and there isn't any other storage around the seat, apart from the seat pocket on the back of the footstool. So, first point — I would avoid the aisle seats on the upper deck.

Note also that the seats A and B (and J and K) throughout the cabin have smaller overhead compartments than the middle three seats.

I didn't manage to measure all the footlockers, but certainly seats D and F throughout the cabin on this upper deck have smaller footlockers. Since I always work on my laptop on these flights, I would avoid these ones as well.

Having flown in the middle seat on the B787 (E), I like this seat, but to read a review of that on the B787, click here.

Lastly, I would definitely avoid the back row of this second cabin. The seats 59A and B and 59J and K are very close to World Traveller Plus (as are centre seats 59DEF) where frequently there are bassinets. And so it proved tonight with a baby screaming in blood-curdling fashion for the first 60 minutes or so. Goodness knows what it must have been like in WTP for those who'd been congratulating themselves on securing a bulkhead seat (row 60 AB-DEF–JK).

I know people like 59A and 59K because you are in a window seat and can have unimpeded access to the aisle from the legs of someone sitting behind you, but if that's the case I’d go for the back row of the front cabin (row 53, seats A and K).

Summing up then, for this cabin, I'd plump for the middle seats, although not in the back row, or the window seats, but again, not in the back.

The real issue for night flights such as this one is that if you want to sleep for the majority of this flight, the middle seat and window seats are the ones for you — in every other position you will hear the divider going up and down as meals are served across you, and being on the aisle you will be disturbed by the meal service, and with people coming in and out of their seat and stepping over your feet.

THE FLIGHT

We took off at 1810 and in the meantime I listened to the music through the IFE system, although obviously I could not watch any films because the screen has to be folded back into the side of the seat.

Once the seat belt sign was turned off, the Club World amenity bags with Elemis products were passed out. It took five or ten minutes before the seat power came on, and during that time we could not raise the dividers between the seats.

Much has been made in forums of how slow the service is on some of the flights using new aircraft (the A380 and B787) as crew accustom themselves to the new galleys, so although I was very tired and not hungry, I thought I wanted to see how quickly the service commenced. In short, it was pretty quick.

We took off shortly after 1800. The drinks order was taken in pairs of seats starting from the front of our cabin from 1845, and reached me by 1855. I think it would make more sense to just bring a drinks trolley along, but maybe there's a good reason for not doing so.

Orders for food were taken shortly afterwards (from 1905 through to 1920, depending on which side of the aircraft you were on, and what row, working from the front backwards). The food started coming out at the front of the cabin at 1930. The menu was as follows:

Starters

  • Smoke Balmoral salmon terrine with leeks and potato confit, lemon and crème fraiche
  • Heirloom tomato salad with goat's cheese and asparagus
  • Fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette

Main course

  • Grilled fillet of Omaha beef with curry herb crust, potato fondant and Bordelaise sauce
  • Seared Atlantic flounder and crayfish bisque with smoked garlic potato puree
  • Black truffle risotto with sugarsnap peas
  • Main course salad with radish, quail eggs, lardons, fingerling potatoes and French dressing accompanied by warm herb-roasted organic chicken Lyonnaise

Desserts

  • White chocolate cheese cake
  • Cabrales and Chaource cheese served with crema de membrillo
  • Selection of fruit
  • Chocolates

Champagne

  • Taittinger Brut Reserve NV
  • Champagne de Castelnau Brut Roe
  • Champagne Boizel Grand Vintage 2004

Whites

  • Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc 2012, Languedoc
  • Avant Chadonnay 2010, California

Reds

  • Chateau Tristan 2007, Pomerol, Bordeaux
  • Byron Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Barbara County, California

For me, on a night service of only nine hours duration, such as this, the main point of flying business overnight is to get some sleep. Although only 1930 California time, I was still on UK time having only spent 24 hours in LA, and it was now 0330 in the morning. So food wasn't a priority, sleep was.

My Elemis amenity bag was missing some ear plugs (I may well have dropped them out) but the crew without fuss got me another pair. I reclined my seat and had no trouble sleeping, for about five hours, waking around 1000 in the morning, UK time, two hours before landing.

At this point in the flight most people were still asleep, which left me free to raid the Club Kitchen, which was well stocked with fruit, biscuits and chocolate, and the crew made me a couple of cups of tea and a coffee. They were friendly, young, organised, and seemed completely unfazed about being on the A380, though keen to know what I thought of it. They had flown over on it a few days before, perhaps explaining why there were no delays in the service, though they were alternating with the B747-400, depending on schedules.

I then watched part of a film on the new Thales inflight system (new in the sense this is on the reconfigured B777-200 fleet, the B777-300ER fleet, the B787s and A380s, but not only older B767s or B777-200S).

Breakfast was served from 70 minutes before landing. It consisted of:

  • Chilled fruit juice
  • Mango and passion-fruit smoothie
  • Fresh fruit
  • Special K cereal
  • Warm bacon roll
  • A selection of assorted breakfast

I think something got missed off the menu here — maybe, breads? The bacon roll was delicious.

We landed on time at Heathrow at 1200, at Satellite C, and then caught the shuttle train back to the terminal. I didn't have any luggage so was quickly out and off home to enjoy the remainder of Saturday.

VERDICT

A very good service. The next time I fly I would try the main deck, and if I flew upper deck again I would go for the front cabin and either a window seat or middle seat. For those who have flown the A380, the smoothness of flight, and the reduction of noise is welcome will be familiar.


Tom Otley