Club World is the name of British Airways’ long-haul business class cabin. BA is in the process of upgrading the Club World in flight service and will roll out a new seat in 2019. Here are the latest developments in Club World.
London Heathrow – Miami is a good illustration of the vagaries of flying BA.
BA operates three return flights a day, all now with a Boeing 747 so passengers should know with confidence to expect. Right? Well, not quite.
It’s perfectly feasible that three groups of passengers all taking different BA flights on the same day could each report different experiences.
The reason being that only some of the 52 Club World seat aircraft that serve this route have been fully refurbished with new in-flight entertainment systems. Some have had just a light interior refresh. Others have not been refurbished at all in ten years due to their imminent retirement. And you’ll only know what you’re getting once you’ve stepped on board the aircraft.
Let’s take a look at one early morning departure from London Heathrow Terminal 3:
After a quick check-in at a reasonably busy Heathrow Terminal 3 for an early morning, it’s to the lounge.
It’s received wisdom that any passengers flying Oneworld from Terminal 3 with lounge access should head to either the Cathay Pacific or Qantas lounges.
However if you want to download reading material from PressReader at the airport you need to use the BA lounge WiFi. A couple of tips: you do need allow for a generous amount of space on your device and a good amount of time to download as it does take more than a few minutes.
To boarding, BA has for some time been using the grouping system for boarding aircraft. One weakness is that the relative numbers of passengers eligible for Group 1 boarding can vary widely by route. As Miami is an American Airlines stronghold, there are a lot of Oneworld Emerald cardholders eligible for Group 1 boarding on this route.
A couple of weeks ago we reported that BA had introduced a new pricing structure for seat selection charges on the main deck of Club World.
BA has introduced a new set of six price points for selecting a seat, and these are detailed here.
It was expected that further changes would be forthcoming for the Upper Deck. BA has today, Tuesday 11 June 2019, implemented a new pricing structure for the Upper Deck of the Airbus A380. This has a relatively marginal different configuration of 2-3-2 rather than 2-4-2 on the main deck. Window seats also have storage bins.
Using a flight to Vancouver as an example, there are now separate charges for seat pairs by the window and lower charges for the centre seats. All of these Upper Deck seats were previously priced at £105. Now the centre seats attract a lower, albeit very modestly so in the grand scheme of things, price of £95 to select a seat.
On the main deck of this flight, seat selection charges range from £79 to £105.
Note that these changes only apply to passengers making new bookings. Passengers with existing bookings will not see any changes. Seat selection charges will also vary by route. At present, pricing of the much smaller Upper Deck of the Boeing 747 appears to be unchanged.
For the past ten years or so BA has required passengers other than Silver and Gold members of the Executive Club to pay a fee to select a seat at the time of booking.
This applies to all cabins except First Class, even Club World. Please see here for a full guide to BA’s seating policy.
Even though BA is one of the only, if not the only, airlines in the world to charge business class passengers to select a seat, and it is seen as somewhat egregious, this policy has survived.
As BA has learned of passenger preferences it has applied dynamic pricing to different parts of the same cabin with differential charges by row and proximity to aisles and windows.
In Club World, this has meant higher charges for the much loved upper deck of the Boeing 747. On the main deck of the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 and in all other Club World cabins, there were three tiers of prices, Front, Middle, and Rear. There were higher charges for forward rows and lower charges for rear rows.
Changes from 14 May 2019
Since Tuesday 14 May 2019, BA has split the pricing of seats on the main deck of Club World into no less than six tiers.
These are Front Side, Front Centre, Middle Side, Middle Centre, Rear Side, Rear Centre.
In the example of an 86 Club World seat Boeing 747 below, there are now higher prices to select a seat on the side of the aircraft, which are £87 per person at the front of the cabin, £80 in the middle of the cabin, and £67 at the rear of the cabin.
Centre seats are at reduced prices of £79, £72 and £59 per person. Charges will vary by aircraft, and are higher on other aircraft such as the Airbus A380.
British Airways officially unveiled its new Club World Suite today, Monday 18 March 2019.
This is the first radical redesign of the Club World cabin in nearly 20 years. It will make its debut this year on new deliveries of Airbus A350-1000 and refurbished Boeing 777-200 aircraft. Please see here for full details of the new suite.
However, it is going to take some time before it is retrofitted to the existing fleet and for new aircraft to be delivered with the new seat. If history is anything to go by, it will be aircraft on Heathrow routes with the some of the highest premium demand that will be retrofitted first. For the next 2-3 years at least, the majority of BA long-haul flights will operate with the existing seat.
Of course, there is also more to Club World than just the seat. There is a lot else happening to the existing BA fleet. Here’s a quick precis of what else to expect in terms of aircraft, lounges and in-flight service in the coming years.
52 Club World Seat Boeing 747 Refurbishment
Last year, BA began refurbishing its 16 remaining 52 Club World seat Boeing 747 aircraft.
These regularly operate on routes from London Heathrow to Accra, Cape Town, Denver, Nairobi, Phoenix and Vancouver. They have long been known for their relatively poor interior condition.
Some aircraft have received a modest refresh with new carpeting and seat covers. Others have received a more substantial refurbishment with a new in-flight entertainment system to bring the aircraft in line with the 86 Club World seat aircraft. As more 52 Club World seat are refurbished this year and others are retired, the chances of flying on a non-refurbished aircraft should diminish.
Gatwick Boeing 777-200 Refurbishment
BA is about half way through a two year project to refurbish its Gatwick based Boeing 777s.
As far as Club World is concerned the main changes are that the size of the cabin is being reduced from 48 to 32 seats on 3 class aircraft. The cabin interiors are being refreshed and a significantly improved in-flight entertainment system installed.
At the time of writing 7 Boeing 777-200 aircraft have been refurbished. They regularly operate on routes such as Antigua, Cancun, Fort Lauderdale, Kingston, New York JFK, and Tampa. An 8th aircraft is currently in Singapore for refurbishment.
British Airways has unveiled its first radical redesign of its long-haul Club World business class cabin in nearly 20 years.
It was in 1999 that details first emerged of BA’s plan to unveil its first fully flat bed in business class, with a “yin-yang” rear and forward facing configuration.
Whilst the seat has been progressively modified over time, the fundamental layout of the cabin has remained the same. It is a layout that has served the airline well financially due to its space efficiency. However, it has by BA’s own admission and in the view of many frequent flyers, fallen behind its competitors which all offer direct aisle access to all passengers. Please see here for a history of Club World over the past 40 years or so.
BA has now jettisoned the yin-yang layout with an entirely new seat and cabin layout.
This will debut on the Airbus A350-1000 which will operate select flights from London Heathrow to Madrid this summer and selected long-haul flights to Toronto from 1 October 2019 and Dubai from 8 October 2019. BA will confirm the exact start date for short-haul test flights in June. There will be 56 Club World seats on the Airbus A350-1000.
The New Club World Suite
Here are details of the new seat:
– All seats have direct access to the aisle
– All seats are forward facing, albeit at a slight angle
– The seat is 79″ long when fully flat
– All seats benefit from greater privacy with a partial door to the seat
– Personal storage is improved significantly, with 40% more storage than the existing Club World seat. Storage facilities include a personal storage drawer and vanity unit
– There is a much larger 17″ – 18.5″ TV screen. It is now possible to watch the in-flight entertainment “gate to gate” as it does not have to be stowed for take-off and landing.
British Airways is about to officially launch its new Club World seat. This is the first radical redesign of its long-haul business cabin in 20 years.
It is by some margin the most important cabin for the airline. The financial performance of BA is inextricably linked to the volume of long-haul business class traffic. Here’s how it has evolved, both in terms of cabin design and marketing, since the very first origins of “Club” 40 years ago.
The Origins Of “Club”
Which airline deserves credit for the introduction of long-haul business class depends on who you ask.
Qantas claims to be the first airline to introduce a dedicated long-haul business class cabin in 1979.
However, it was in May 1977 that British Airways introduced an “Executive Club” cabin on its Boeing 747 flights to New York. The relatively large size of the aircraft allowed for the introduction of new cabins. This was a separate cabin for economy passengers paying the full fare, divided by a not particularly attractive curtain.
A year later this became known as Club, a word which has become synonymous with business class. The Club cabin was soon extended to all transatlantic routes, and then worldwide.
In March 1981, BA launched “Super Club” on transatlantic routes
These were expanding seats in a 2-2-2 configuration with a folding table in the middle of each seat pair. BA promised it was the widest airline seat available with 24 inches between arm rests.
The “Super Club” seat was extended to all long-haul routes worldwide, as illustrated by the 1984 advert below where the aircraft had to be opened up to fit the seat in it. This was one of Saatchi & Saatchi’s earliest TV adverts for BA and you can see the cinematic influence.
This is one iteration of the “Super Club” seat. Before personal TV screens were introduced in the 1990s, personal at seat in-flight entertainment amounted to in-flight audio only.
It was in January 1988 that BA introduced the “Club World” brand.
Club on short-haul flights was also rebranded as Club Europe. For the first time Club World had a dedicated cabin crew as well as new a “slumberseat”.
The launch was marked with this TV advert. A group of colleagues in London think they have set up a colleague seconded to New York to fail by despatching him on a red rye flight to London in business class. “Like a lamb to the slaughter, gentleman”.
Whilst the advert emphasised how the Club World cabin addresses the needs of the business traveller, such naked male one-upmanship is not something we would see in airline advertising today.
A similarly male focused ad followed a year later with two businessmen completing a deal in BA’s Club World cabin.
2019 is going to be the year of the long-haul business class war.
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are going to introduce new long-haul business class seats with the Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
For BA, this will be just before it officially celebrates its centenary. And Virgin Atlantic never does anything quietly.
This will be the first radical reconfiguration of their business class cabins in 15-20 years. Whilst both airlines have introduced new seats since they first introduced fully flat beds in business class near the turn of the century, the fundamental layout of the cabin has remained the same.
In the case of BA, this is its “yin-yang” 2-3/4-2 layout with backward and forward facing seats. For Virgin Atlantic, this is its reverse herringbone configuration with window seats facing into the cabin.
BA’s New Club World cabin
BA has today, Friday 2 November 2018, confirmed the following details of its new Club World cabin:
– The new larger seat will feature direct aisle access for all passengers.
– Personal storage and privacy will be improved.
– Gate to gate in-flight entertainment will be introduced for the first time, meaning that the TV monitor will be fixed into place, rather than adjustable as at present.
– BA has not given anything anyway at all regarding the look of the actual seat and cabin.
BA’s New Club World cabin on the Airbus A350-1000
The new seat will arrive when the first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft is delivered to BA in July 2019:
– Four Airbus A350-1000 will be in service by the end of 2019.
– BA will take delivery of 18 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft in total.
– BA will also take delivery of 12 Boeing 787-10 aircraft between 2020 and 2023 which will be fitted with the new cabin. The first six aircraft are due to arrive in 2020.
– BA will also take delivery of 18 Boeing 777-9 aircraft between 2022 and 2025, with 15 aircraft delivered by 2023.
Retrofitting the new seat on existing aircraft
Over 100 aircraft will be fitted with the new seat:
– Two Boeing 777 aircraft will be retrofitted with the new seat by the end of 2019. The number of Club World seats will actually increase very marginally by 1 on these aircraft, with the extra space likely to come from reducing First Class from 14 to 8 seats.
– The retrofitting of existing aircraft will continue in 2020 and will be completed by 2023.
– Given that many of BA’s competitors have experienced delays in retrofitting aircraft with new seats due to late deliveries from seat manufacturers, there may be a degree of expectations management at play here.
– It’s a safe assumption it won’t be retrofitted to Boeing 747 aircraft as most will be retired by 2023.
– Based on historical practice, Heathrow aircraft with the highest premium seating configurations, such as 4 class Boeing 777s, will be retrofitted first.
British Airways continues to roll out its new Club World meal service across its long-haul network at Heathrow.
The latest routes to receive the new service this week are Buenos Aires, Jeddah, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo Haneda, Tokyo Narita, Santiago, and Sao Paulo.
However, BA has also just pulled a major volte face.
When the service was launched last year, there was much emphasis on added “theatre” and the ability to select starters and desserts during the first meal service from a dedicated display trolley in the aisle.
However, as we noted in our review of the service 12 months in, the delivery of the new meal service has been inconsistent. Some crews have simply not used the display trollies at all. Others have, but grudgingly.
It has been confirmed that from Sunday 28 October 2018, the display trollies will be abandoned altogether.
It’s now almost one year since BA launched its new Club World bedding and meal service, and almost two years since it was first announced to investors in BA’s parent company, IAG.
Having experienced it on a number of different aircraft and routes, it’s a good time to put pen to paper and gather some thoughts.
Progress of new bedding and catering roll-out
By way of a quick primer, the new White Company bedding is now available on all Club World routes to and from all London airports.
The new catering service is taking longer. It should be on almost all Heathrow routes by the end of the year. The new service is now available on most, if not all, North American routes. The latest routes to receive the new service are Singapore-Sydney, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. There are still a number of routes to Central and South America, Africa, The Middle East and Asia to follow. The last Heathrow routes are likely to be the Airbus A321 medium haul routes to Amman and Beirut. The new service will be rolled out at Gatwick in 2019.
It’s a short overnight flight from Montreal, typically leaving at around 21:30 with a flight time of around 6.5 hours.
By comparison to the rest of the airport, particularly the queues at check-in for Air Transat and Royal Air Maroc, the BA check-in desks are a haven of calm.
Regardless of what cabin you are travelling in you should find check-in by the local BA team relatively quick.
Turning to security screening, there is an expansive security screening area. There is a dedicated priority security line. However, you would be forgiven for not noticing if you didn’t know it was there. As you head from check-in security you need to walk right to the very far end of the entrance to security.
Salon Banque Nationale Lounge
BA has long used a third party lounge facility at Montréal.
With just one flight a day, and very little else by way of Oneworld alliance presence, this is not surprising. If you’ve flown BA from this airport before March 2017 you may have used what was known as the TD First Class lounge which faced into the airport. This has now closed and BA now uses a new Salon Banque Nationale / National Bank lounge at Gate 53.
Note that the pictures of this lounge on the airport website are dated. The purple chairs were not in evidence and the vast majority of seats are grey armchairs.
If you don’t have access to this lounge by virtue of cabin or frequent flyer status, the lounge can also be booked via Swissport. Again, note that the pictures on this site are of the old lounge which has closed.
I was fully prepared to write damning review of this lounge facility. Not only that, I wasn’t sure whether it would be possible to get into the lounge in the first place!
On two occasions last year there were long queues to get into the lounge. Many BA passengers were turned away due to overcrowding. This is not what any passenger needs before a long-haul flight.
However, based on signage at the entrance, measures have been taken to reduce overcrowding. There was little difficulty finding a seat. However, the lounge may be much busier when Qatar Airways are flying to Doha (on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) or when Turkish Airlines are flying to Istanbul (on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday).
If you visited this lounge in its opening months you may have been handed a voucher at check-in because it didn’t have an alcohol licence. However, there is now a staffed bar offering beer, wines and cocktails. There is a dedicated family area of the lounge where, presumably due to licensing restrictions, you can only consume alcohol with a meal.
There is also a buffet offering hot dishes such as chicken and rice which, to be honest, did not look particularly appetising. There are also cold salads, fruit, breads, and snacks such as pretzels. Sadly, there are no showers.
The lounge does benefit from floor to ceiling views of the airport apron. It is much brighter, but the old lounge was preferable for having a much wider range of seating and generally a much calmer atmosphere.