Hello Flight-Reporters and #AvGeeks, welcome to a new series of flights!
With Delta and United having officially retired their 747 fleets at the end of 2017, U.S. carriers no longer operate the iconic "Queen of the Skies".
Luckily, several airlines around the world still fly the 747 and, as a oneworld flyer in the D.C. area, I still have the British Airway 747 flying to one of my home airports. In mid 2017, British Airways swapped the daily A380 on the Washington-London route for a 747-400. Some days, both daily BA IAD-LHR flights are operated by a 744. This was the case on our date of departure.
We decided to take a trip to Greece over Thanksgiving week as I'm a history nerd, in addition to being an aviation geek, and there were some decent Business class fares on BA. Business class from the U.S. tends to be discounted over holidays and the summer, when there is less business travel.
British Airways operate Boeing 747-400s in the "Super High-J" configuration to Washington-Dulles. These 744s have a whopping 86 Business class seats with the Club World cabin taking up the upper deck and stretching almost all the way to door 4 on the main deck (see seatmap below).
With such a premium-heavy configuration, there are many seats to chose from; however, the most highly prized seats are on the upper deck, of course!
Luckily, I was able to score seats in the first row of the upper deck when booking about two months out. As I prefer window seats, I would have ideally preferred seats in the exit row 62 or the last row 64, as these window seats have direct aisle-access. All window seats in Club World are rear-facing except for the 767-300ER (Intl version), which is currently only operated by BA's premium French subsidiary OpenSkies. See my recent reviews of the soon-to-disappear airline here and here
As you can see, even two months out, there were not many seats available on the upper deck.
Although I had flown on a BA 744 earlier in the year (See Report Here), It had been years since I'd been on the upper deck so I was really looking forward to this flight. Unfortunately, the experience started with a bit of stress when I received this e-mail from BA a little before 1:00PM on the day of departure:
Yikes, the almost 3-hour delay meant that I would miss my connection to Athens in London. I immediately called British Airways and proceeded to spend over an hour on the phone with an incredibly incompetent agent. I was basically having to look up re-routing options myself and then make suggestions to the agent as he didn't want to look up anything that didn't automatically pop up in the reservation system as between IAD and ATH–you have to be creative in these situations! The agent kept pushing for the easy option (for him) to re-book me on the next available flight from LHR to ATH–the problem with that was that it departed 12 hours after my original flight! That was totally unacceptable to me as I would lose my first day in Greece arriving at 1:00AM Sunday instead of 1:00PM Saturday.
After looking up a slew of routing combinations on BA, and other oneworld carriers, through several East Coast gateways, and even some out-of-alliance options, there just wasn't anything available that would get us to Athens earlier. Oddly, for a holiday week, Business class was sold out on almost every Transatlantic flight I looked up. I could find just one seat here and there, which didn't work for me since there were two of us. I just gave up and accepted to be booked onto the next LHR-ATH flight; at least I had verified for myself that there really were no other options.
Eh, it is what it is… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Check-in & Lounges
Despite the delay, we got to the airport around 5:00PM to check if there were any new re-routing options. Unsurprisingly, there weren't. I asked the agent at the Club World check-in if it would be possible to provide us with a hotel at Heathrow since we were going to be stuck there for 12 hours due to the delay. Again, unsurprisingly, the answer was no. The agent suggested that we check in London…of course, why make this any easier on us? Then the check-in agent tried to sell us cash upgrades to First–I love how offering paid upgrades seems to be BA's answer to service failures lately. How is suggesting that we give them more money any kind of compensation?!?! ?
The same scenario had played out on a previous flight with OpenSkies
The airport was surprisingly empty considering the upcoming Holiday week.
Beautiful sunset colours on the way to security.
An empty check-in area meant short lines at security. Since BA do not participate in the Known Traveller programme, I don't get TSA pre-check when flying with BA.
My traditional post-train glider shot
The British Airways Galleries lounge is located just across from the escalators that come up from the trains. I won't cover the lounge in too much detail as I've written about it in several other reports.
With 14 seats in First and 86 seats in Club World, and I'm sure a plethora of passengers in Premium Economy and Economy holding oneworld status, the lounge was packed. It got progressively worse throughout the evening as passengers from the 2nd BA flight (also a 744) began arriving.
Luckily, the Club World dining room, which is tucked away in the back of the lounge, was not crowded so we decided to settle in there. Access to the dining room is reserved for Club World passengers, with an attendant checking boarding passes at the entrance. There is a separate First class dining area in the "Concorde Bar"
We found a nice quiet corner to set up camp.
Here you can see that access is roped off with an attendant at the podium by the entrance.
Tarmac views from the dining room. R.I.P Virgin America
The dining room isn't terribly large, but it was a nice escape from the crowded main part of the lounge.
For Club World, it is a self-serve hot buffet, though there are attendants who serve drinks in the dining room.
There was an attendant at the buffet making Asian stir-fry to order. It looked good so I started with that. It was tasty with the right level of spice.
Next, I tried a bit of everything: Lasagna, salmon in cream sauce, green beans, and mashed potatoes.
The mashed potatoes were delicious, so I had more, but with turkey this time ?
Dessert was ok. The mini-pumpkin pie, along with the turkey earlier, were a nod to traditional U.S. Thanksgiving fare, but the pumpkin pie was dry and bland.
After a while the dining room began to fill up, so we decided to head over to the Turkish Airlines lounge for a bit before boarding. The new-ish TK lounge is actually right across from the gate, whereas the BA Galleries lounge is a few gates down. We had access to this lounge through Priority Pass.
I've covered this lounge in the past as well. It's a nice space, though a bit on the small side so it can get crowded. I've been turned away in the past trying to get in with Priority Pass during peak hours. Luckily, that was not the case this evening, and the lounge wasn't overcrowded.
There is a nice food spread in the TK lounge, but as I'd stuffed my face in the BA lounge, I only had a scotch as a digestif
Turkish A330-300 from the lounge
We went across the hall to gate B42/B44 right before boarding was due to begin.
There were just a few people ahead of us already standing in the Club World/Fast Track queue.
Right before boarding began. A gate agent came through the queue to check boarding passes and politely kick out anyone who didn't have access to Fast track.
Time to board the Queen! The B42 jetbridge was connected to door 1L for First class boarding and B44 was connected to 2L for everyone else.
The stairs to the upper deck are located right as you enter through door 2L.
The recently refurbished cabin looks sharp with the blue mood lighting.
All aircraft with this premium-heavy "Super High-J" configuration were refurbished in 2016. The seats are the latest generation Club World. Though not much different in design from previous versions, the seats have upgraded power with USB ports and feature the newer Panasonic ex3 In-flight Entertainment system.
With only 20 Business class seats on the upper deck, the cabin has an intimate, almost private jet feel.
Looking towards the rear of the cabin.
My seat in the first row, 60K
We sat just a few feet behind the cockpit
View of the cabin from my seat
Window seats offer a lot of privacy in Club World (when the partition is up, anyway). Due to the unusual configuration with pairs of adjacent seats having a forwards and a backwards facing seat, if you are seated next to a stranger, it can be very awkward during taxi, takeoff, and landing, when the partition must be down. However, if you are travelling as a couple, these seats are great as you can have a face-to-face conversation.
One of the best features found on the 747 (and A380) upper deck is the large storage bins along the outer wall. These are really nice to have, especially as the overhead bins are quite small on the 747's upper deck.
Window seats on 747 and A380 upper decks with these bins have more shoulder room, and are therefore more spacious than on other aircraft in the BA fleet. The window seats on other aircraft can feel a bit claustrophobic.
Although BA Business class is often criticized for its high-density configuration, one nice thing about Club World is that the seats have a massive amount of legroom and the legs and feet are not restricted by a small foot-well often found on other types of full-flat Business class seats.
Just a few minutes after settling in, a lovely flight attendant offers to take coats and comes back shortly thereafter with pre-departure champagne.
Amenity kits are distributed a few minutes later. The contents are basic with the usual tootbrush/toothpaste combo, eye shades, socks, and Elemis hand creme. I'm not a big fan of these shoe bags, though; I much prefer the more common toiletry kit-style bags.
The 22:00 flight to LHR at the gate next door.
Let's have a look at the menu.
Based on the number of people I had seen at the gate at boarding time, it seems the flight was not full and boarding went quickly.
IFE screens out for the safety video
It seems that the e-mail I'd received earlier that day was pretty accurate as we pushed back from the gate right at 21:00
During taxi, the new BA safety video plays. The new video, created in collaboration with U.K. charity Comic Relief , features a number of British celebrities. It is well done and quite funny–a nice change from the previous video.
Asim Chaudhry, playing a clueless wannabe director, does screen tests with the cast, who all play themselves.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor starts it off
Then we have mega-celebrity TV chef Gordon Ramsey
Sir Ian McKellen and Warwick Davis show us the operation of the oxygen masks
The video also features Gillian Anderson (in her natural English accent), Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Thandie Newton, Jim Broadbent, and Rob Brydon
At this late hour, the taxi time was short with no wait to takeoff,
The BA HIghlife Entertainment system in these newer cabins has a good amount of film, TV, and music content.
The Airshow is beautiful and modern.
Our route today
The apéritif is served shortly after takeoff, somewhere between Philly and NYC
The table in Club World is nice and large.
Castelnau Rosé Brut champagne before dinner with the usual packet of cashews. The champagne is good, but the bag of nuts is not nearly as high-end as the proper amuse-bouches I recently had on sister airline Aer Lingus
On these short Eastbound overnight flights, the catering is less substantial than on day flights. For example, the starter is only a salad, rather than a salad and a proper appetizer course. The dessert is pre-placed on the tray to speed up service.
For the main, I had the roasted chicken breast–it was fine, but a bit bland.
A look at the braised short rib option, which would have probably been a better option.
Cabin crew offered a cheese course after the main, but I stayed with dessert.
A Cognac digestif before bed
To relax before sleeping, I put the seat in bed mode and put on the Baywatch movie. Being a silly and not particularly interesting movie, I fell right to sleep!
I slept a good 4 hours or so and woke up as we were passing Northern Ireland, about 45 minutes out from Heathrow.
Since I decided to sleep until it was time for the cabin to be prepared for landing, I skipped breakfast.
Our short route over the Atlantic today. As we were arriving after the normal arrival rush due to the 3 hour delay, there wasn't much circling prior to landing.
It was a typical cloudy late autumn day over London.
Some nice autumn colours on landing
The taxi to Terminal 5 was short and we parked amid sister Queens.
We pulled in to the gate at 9:20AM, just under 3 hours after scheduled time, so we did not make up any time in flight.
Last views of the upper deck cabin on deplaning.
Another beautiful BA 747 on the way to the train to the main terminal.
As we got to the train, I suddenly had a feeling like I was missing something. I had my rollaboard and backpack…what could it be? Out of nowhere, one of the two cabin crew who'd worked the upper deck arrived out of breath with my bag of duty free. Doh! That's what I had forgotten!
Wow, I couldn't believe she had run all the way to the train to find me. I was super embarrassed but very thankful. She really saved the day for me–talk about going above and beyond! I got her name and made sure to write in a compliment letter to BA Customer Relations praising her.
Now here comes the looooong wait until the next flight to Athens. Oh joy!
British Airways Galleries Lounge
Washington - IAD
London - LHR
Although I wasn't happy about the 3 hour delay, which would ultimately delay us 12 hours to our destination, I did not let it ruin my experience. Having a seat on the upper deck and such a wonderful cabin crew helped to ease my frustrations, at least while on-board, and truly enjoy the flight.
Cabin - We all know that BA Club World isn't the best Business class product out there, but the seats are fully flat and comfortable. The unrestricted legroom is a big plus compared to other seats with tiny foot-wells. The upper deck window seat experience is markedly better than the main deck as the seats are much more spacious and have storage bins along the side wall. Also, the cabin is quieter being further away from the engines. I actually like the forwards-backwards configuration when travelling as a couple. My main criticism of this seat would be the lack of direct aisle access.
Cabin crew - Very professional and attentive crew. This was not a typical crew who hide in the galley between meal services; they were constantly in the cabin checking on passengers. Also, the fact that there are two flight attendants for only 20 passengers makes for a nicer experience with more personalised attention. And, of course, I'm super thankful for the flight attendant who chased me down all the way to the train to return my forgotten item.
IFE - Brand new and modern with a large library of content and great airshow.
Catering - It was fine, but nothing special. I understand the need for a reduced service on short night flights, but the lack of a real appetizer seems more like cost-cutting.
Overall a very nice flight on the Queen of the Skies!
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