Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways B787 Club World

01/10/2013

BACKGROUND

Last month saw the introduction of the B787 Dreamliner aircraft to the BA flight schedule, with flights to Toronto commencing on September 1. This month, from October 1, flights to New York Newark commence.

The B787s are being used at this stage to retire the 14 long-haul B767 aircraft in BA's fleet, though this may take until 2017. I have been on a walk-around of the B787 previously when it was on show at Heathrow, and the photos here are a mix of photos taken on that occasion or publicity shots from BA.

I chose to take Club World over to Toronto (an 8-hour flight), returning overnight in World Traveller Plus (premium economy).  This is the Club World review.

B787 Club World seat

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I arrived at Heathrow T5 at 1130 for my 1400 departure on BA97. I had already checked in and was using the BA app on my smartphone, which displayed my boarding card.

Although Canada does not require a visa for a trip such as this, I stopped off at the visa and passport check desk since I am often turned back at T5 security if I haven't done so. Once this had been checked, fast track security was swift and I was through to airside.

THE LOUNGE

I have a BA Gold Card and so went to the First lounge. Having to show my boarding card on my phone once again to gain access I asked if I could just get a paper boarding card, since I have to enter a security pin into the phone each time to access the app - I was worried about wear and tear to the screen of my new HTC One each time it was scanned, especially on this occasion as I was asked to hand it over to be scanned.

The lounge was extremely busy this Monday lunchtime, with only a few seats left, but was quiet and seemed well organised, with a huge choice of hot and cold food and drinks. I worked on my laptop using the free wifi, though since every other passenger in there was doing the same, it seemed to me that the connection speed was fairly slow.

Flights aren’t called from the lounge, so one minute the flight to Toronto showed no information at all, not even whether it was departing from the main terminal or satellite B or C, the next it said boarding from Gate A10. I packed up my stuff, and went down to A10, ignoring the two lifts where a large group of passengers was waiting impatiently, having had it drummed into them that if they got to the Gate late they would be denied boarding.

At Gate 10, I arrived just in time to hear that I’d missed priority boarding, but there was still a fast track queue, which had a few passengers in it, and I was quickly processed so that I could get onto one of several buses heading to the far side of the airport where the B787 was parked. Once there, we waited on the bus until the passengers from the bus in front of us had made their way up the steps (boarding was through one door only).

BA B787 Boarding the Dreamliner

I then made my way up, showed my boarding card, and took my seat.

THE SEAT

The B787 Dreamliner in this configuration has 214 seats, being 154 economy seats, 25 World Traveller Plus seats and 35 Club World Seats.

The Club World seating is in two cabins of 2-3-2 configuration. The front cabin is rows 1-3 in AB-DEF-JK. There is then a galley and then a small cabin of two rows, rows 6 and 7.

To see a seatplan, click here.

Here is a video of the interior of the BA B787:

There is one washroom at the front of the aircraft (close to the door onto the flight deck) and another in the galley between the two Club World cabins. The cabin looks smart and feels airy, not least because of the larger windows. The footstool is a different design, and stronger.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE

As with Club World on other aircraft in the fleet, the window seats are best (A and K). They are more private than the aisle seats, and have windows to look out of, which in the case of the B787 means you get a great view backwards.

If you enjoy the view, then go for a window seat in the front cabin, because that way you can look back at the elegant tapered wings which flex during flight (and particularly at take-off). It’s a beautiful slight and since BA is unique in having backwards facing seats allowing you this view, it’s something remarkable.

That said, sitting in window seats mean stepping over the feet of the passenger in the aisle seat, so best seats for avoiding that would be 3A and 3K, though the view is less good from here because you are almost over the wing, and 7A and 7K in the second cabin, where you are over the wing. You can see what is either 3A or 7A in his picture, with Lisa Snowden sitting in 3B (or 7B if this was taken in the rear cabin). 

Lisa Snowden B787 Dreamliner British Airways

Since Lisa wasn't on the flight, I chose one of the single backward facing centre seats in the centre of the row.

B787 Club World centre seat

The width of the aircraft means that these middle seats have more room than the other seats in Club World, having a side storage compartment to one side of the seat.

British Airways Club World extra storage space

There is also an area above this compartment which can be used to hold a drink, and which is good for tucking anything away that you don’t immediately need, like the blanket when you are working, or some papers. Obviously for take-off anything here will slide away from you towards your feet.

There are disadvantages in these seats – you have to step over other passengers feet whether you exit left or right, but then, at least you can vary it so you don’t annoy anyone too much. And, of course, you don’t get any kind of view out of the windows, but then, depending on whether you are intending to sleep or work, this might not be a problem.

I’ve also read that the windows, although they dim, don’t exclude all the light (as would, for instance, a blind), and for that reason sitting in the middle seat allows for an extra bit of insulation since with the dividers up between the seats, you can enjoy a lot of privacy.

The dividers weren’t raised until after take-off, and I didn’t try to see what would have happened if I had done so before take-off, so if there are passengers in the seats either side of you it can be a bit daunting.

One point – if you are going to try these centre seats, or find yourself with only the option of row 1, bear in mind that seats in 1DEF don’t have any overhead lockers because of the crew rest area which is in the roof overhead (you can see the stairs up to this if you use the washroom at the front). On this flight it wasn’t a problem because the cabin wasn’t full, so there was space in the overhead lockers elsewhere in the cabin, and these are huge –you can put a normal roller bag in endways and on its side, so much more fits in there, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

This potential lack of overhead storage space also applies if you are in 1A and 1K, because although you have your own overhead locker shared with 1B (or if 1K sharing with 1J), bear in mind that since the passengers in the middle three seats will store their bags in your locker(s), it could get crowded if everyone has a roll on and laptop bag or similar.  

THE FLIGHT

The crew on this flight were excellent – lots of smiles, helpful, chatty and professional. I did wonder, however, why no one (not even Gold Cards) were greeted or “welcomed back” (what the hotels call “recognition”). This has happened on many flights I have been on, but not this one, perhaps because there was so much else that was new about the flight to occupy the crew.

There were no magazines on board apart from the BA magazine High Life and the shopping magazine (I was told “they” had forgotten to load them), but there were newspapers so I asked for a FT and Telegraph (also available, the Mail and the Independent).

Drinks were offered (water, Champagne and orange juice) and then the captain told us that some passengers had not turned up, and so we were off-loading their bags which might cause a slight delay but that we would make up that time during the flight. We took off at 1425.

Although the IFE worked fine at first, none of the seats in the cabin had any in-seat power. I pointed this out fairly quickly and the Cabin Services Director said she would see if they could fix it. She kept me updated and after an hour the problem was solved. The problem was throughout the whole aircraft rather than just my seat, so presumably others were also waiting for the power. I also plugged my iPad into the USB socket to see if that would charge. A message said it was not doing so.

What happened an hour or so after that (around 1630) was there was an announcement that since some seats were having IFE problems, they were having to reset the entire system and we would all have our IFE interrupted for 15-20 minutes. When this reset happened all the laptop power also switched off, but also all the screens between the seats automatically lowered, which was quite strange, almost alarming, as we saw and listened to them all drop at the same time. Once the reset began they could be raised again and I overheard a member of the crew saying that they hadn’t realised it would do this, and it was their first time working the B787.

BA B787 IFE reset

When the IFE stops in this way a percentage of passengers then stand up to get books or other forms of entertainment out of their bags or just take the opportunity to use the washrooms, and when this happens during the meal service, as was the case here, it can cause quite a bit of congestion and delay, though the flight attendants kept going in a general good humour, despite admitting it was taking them longer than usual because the galleys were unfamiliar to them.

When the IFE came back on (after 20 minutes) the in-seat power had stopped working again. I didn’t really want to mention it again, but since I had to work, I did.

FOOD AND DRINK

I’d flown Club World twice the week before to and from Chengdu - for that flight review of the inaugural flight click here - so perhaps it was no surprise that the menu options were identical with one exception; Chengdu-style chicken was missing and replaced by the corn-fed chicken.

Starter

  • Scottish smoked salmon with capers and lemon; or 
  • Carrot, coriander and cumin mousse with citrus jelly and quinoa and pomegranate salad. 
  • Fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette.

(I had the salmon starter again, which with the choice of breads which are offered is quite filling.)

Main course

  • Roasted breast of corn-fed chicken with wild mushroom and fines herbes sauce, creamy mashed potatoes, carrot batons and savoy cabbage.
  • Seared fillet of British beef with Port wine sauce, creamed leeks, roasted pumpkin and roasted new potatoes;
  • North African vegetable tajin and moghrabieh couscous;
  • Chilled main course Far East salad of seared tiger prawns with chilli dressing.

For a change I tried the tajin, which was a large portion and quite spicy. I didn’t manage to finish it but I would have it again (and probably will if I fly again soon!).

Dessert

  • Lemon and raspberry tart with mascarpone cream;
  • Coastal cheddar and Somerset Camembert cheese served with grapes and biscuits;
  • Selection of fruit, chocolates.

Champagne cocktails

  • Kir Royal or Buck’s Fizz

Champagne

  • Taittinger Brut Reserve NV Champagne.

Wines

  • Le G de Chateau Guiraud 2012, Bordeaux Blanc Sec
  • Avant Chardonay 2012, California.
  • Red - Chateau Crabitey 2009, Graves
  • Red - Hahn Winery Pinot Noir, California

With the power now working I charged my devices and worked while playing around with the IFE system, sampling the huge choice of music.

The Club Kitchen was well stocked with drinks, chocolate, healthy snacks such as nuts and dried fruit as well as sandwiches, and yoghurts, though the ice cream on offer was completely melted. I told the flight attendant and he apologised and said he would “add it to the list”.

I heard a few people discussing whether they could tell the difference between being on the B787 and the older aircraft, particularly the B767 on this route. They all agreed they could, and talked of the different pressurisation in the aircraft, the larger windows, and the fact that it is much quieter onboard.

I’d agree with all of that – it’s the third B787 I’ve flown (after a long delivery flight from Seattle with Qatar Airways and a Thomson Airways flight to and from Minorca) and these are great aircraft. Of course in the previous two days Norwegian had announced it was returning one its aircraft (see news, September 29) and a LOT one had stopped in Iceland, so there will always be a few doubters over its reliability, but on the evidence of this (admittedly) one flight, BA seems to be on top of it. Only time will tell.

Afternoon tea

Selection of sandwiches “featuring” (I think that means containing) roasted chicken with basil, tuna with cucumber and Double Gloucester cheese with roasted tomatoes. Sweets were plain or fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserve.

ARRIVAL

We arrived some 30 minutes early at 1630 only to find our stand was occupied, so despite being kept informed by the captain it still meant a frustrating 30 minute wait until the stand became clear. I passed the time listening to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life (choice 1307) on the inflight entertainment.

Once we were on stand, we had a ten minute walk to immigration, a 15-minute wait there, and then we were landside and ready to begin the journey into Toronto.

VERDICT

Very good. There are clearly teething problems. The flight attendants are still learning the new galley, the IFE needed resetting as did the in-seat power, and the fridges in Club Kitchen need watching, but the service was good, and the aircraft well worth juggling your schedule to try if it is an option.

For some it will be a long wait before they encounter a B787 on their route (they might even have to wait for the larger and longer range B787-900), but these are lovely aircraft to travel in, problems aside.

ba.com

Tom Otley