BA still boasts one of the most extensive long-haul networks, and for its Business Class passengers, the future is looking suite, writes Andrew Harris
My first Business Class flight many years ago, with BA to Perth (it continued on to Auckland), was something of a Damascene moment. Unlike a lot of Business travellers, I was actually paying for it, and, then as now, that cash disappears alarmingly quickly into a vapour trail of vanished indulgence. We’d only got as far as Turkey and I’d already frittered away several night’s worth of Thailand. Madness; an exercise in excess not to be repeated.
Strolling around the plane, and with Premium Economy yet to make its debut, I drew back the curtain to the economy cabin, directly onto a scene of Hogarthian airborne horror. Harried crew squeezing down crowded corridors, babies screaming. And queues. How quickly one forgets about them! I closed the magic curtain very tightly and remained resolutely behind it. This was worth every penny. The only way to fly!
And for HNW travellers on commercial aircraft, it often is the only way to fly, with First Class not always an option these days. As was the case with my latest BA flight, in their new Business Suite on the Airbus A350, which debuted on the Heathrow-Dubai route recently.
The difference between economy though, or even premium economy, and Business Class, has always felt like a chasm, compared with the step-up in cosseting from Business to First. The mainstays of upscale long-haul flying remain privacy and the ability to lie flat.
British Airways’ reputation has hit a few air pockets of turbulence in recent years, from strikes, to IT failures and surveys of supposedly dissatisfied customers. Personally, I’ve always been extremely happy, even relieved, to clamber aboard from some foreign field, what is still widely perceived as our national carrier.
The crew might not sashay about with the distanced haughtiness of other supposedly sexier airlines, but up in the air, their down-to-earth demeanour has always been a welcome reminder of home; the BBC of the lower troposphere.
The criticisms emanating from Club World, however, have not been without validity. Lying flat isn’t especially impressive with the adjacent passenger clambering over you, and the 2-2-2 seat configuration has been living on borrowed time. Universal aisle access is the most striking aspect of the new cabin, now configured in a 1-2-1 layout of forward-facing seats, the outer ones angled toward the window.
First impressions, impress unreservedly. The cabin, split into a forward space of 44 seats, and a cosier one of just 12, exudes refinement and stylish understatement. The seats, finished in a silver, black and grey livery that wouldn’t look out of place in a top of the range BMW, are all fitted with sliding doors, explaining their transcendence from simple seating into ‘suite’ status. Apart from sticking a roof on and a video entry-phone, it’s difficult to envisage how much more privacy can be extracted from a Business Class seat.
Slotting myself into one of the central suites, and now a seasoned seeker after solace, I’m relieved to see the sliding partition with the adjacent seat can avoid visual contact almost entirely. I was though, unexpectedly unnerved by a sudden visitation from the old adage; ‘be careful what you wish for’.
Ensconced in my pod, surrounded by a like-minded collective of anti-socialists, I was almost lamenting not being able to observe them properly; like being on the Orient Express, and unable to gossip about other passengers. Peaking out over the top, it all looked like an after-hours Goldman Sachs trading floor, or an improbably peaceful Bangalore call centre.
The contrast with last year’s BA flight from Jamaica with my partner, bedding down unencumbered, side by side in rear-facing seats, where I half-expected a crew member to give us a hot water bottle and read us a story, was notable. Any misgivings about attaining peak-privacy, however, proved very short-lived.
Window seats were pre-booked early and I could see why after finagling myself into one for the return from Dubai; the large window onto the outside world provides a perfect counterbalance to the all-enveloping seclusion. The seats, at 79 inches are 7 inches longer, and with bedding and amenities from The White Company, delivery into the land of nod was seamless.
A clever use of space enables forty per cent more storage, while the screen, delivering gate to gate entertainment, is expanded to 18.5. inches. The tray table is a bit fiddly, but soon mastered, whilst three simple settings for seat positioning are a welcome innovation. And the WiFi actually works.
There’s only one galley, which seemed to work better, if not at the expense of the crew working harder, and service is direct to seat with no trolleys. Menus, courtesy of a new catering partner, were a genuine step up, with my breakfast croissant actually tasting like a croissant; an in-flight first. The lower pressurisation of the A350, to 6000 feet, compared to the more usual 8000 feet, really did seem to deliver the more comfortable overall experience it lays claims to, as the crew readily concurred.
While aviation anoraks obsess endlessly about which Business is Best in Class, there can be little doubt, BA’s new offering is up there with the contenders; an impressive integral component of the airline’s recently launched £6.5 billion, five-year investment programme.
With Dubai recently joined by Toronto, Tel-Aviv, and Bangalore, the phased introduction of the Club Suite is well underway.
One in three Heathrow long-haul routes will carry the new cabin by the end of 2020. BA, which still flies to Australia, continues to operate one of the most extensive long-haul networks, and for its Business Class passengers, the future is looking suite, all of a sudden
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