Introduction: A two week tour of India
Report: Back to back in Brussels
Review: Club World in a British Airways 777 from London to Mumbai
Review: Hilton Mumbai
Review: Conrad Pune
Review: Hilton Shillim Estate Resort and Spa
So, the day has come – It’s finally time to fly to Mumbai and experience my first British Airways Club World flight for over a year!
Now, I appreciate that this is a real ‘first world’ problem, but all my BA long haul flights last year, 41 of them in total, were in first class, or First, as BA likes to call it, so flying in Club World, BA’s business class cabin, will be quite a change, especially in what is now a somewhat dated seat. However, there have been a few changes since my last Club World trip so I’m looking forward to experiencing them first hand.
Getting to the airport
The day, as it so often does, started with a trip to the airport, but not on the tube this time. I had my £17 Avis rental to look forward to! With a massage booked in the Elemis spa at 8am, I left home just after 6.30 to make sure I arrived in time. With very light traffic on the road it only took 45 minutes to get to the airport, where I dropped my car off with Avis and headed back up to Terminal 5 departures.
Check in and Security
The airport was very quiet at this time in the morning as I walked through, heading for the First Wing.
The First Wing is available to passengers travelling in First, as well as BA Executive Club Gold and Premier card holders. Club World passengers without status still have access to their own, dedicated check in desks and are allowed to use one of two, Fast Track security lanes, located at the north and south security points in Terminal 5.
Last year BA started serving lightly flavoured water in The First Wing and then introduced cold towels during the hot summer, followed by warm towels later in the year. It’s nice to see that this has continued.
I was travelling with hand baggage, but I hadn’t checked in yet so had to head to a desk to get my boarding pass before going through security. It was quite busy at First check in but, with so many desks open, I had my boarding pass and was heading to security in under a minute.
Lounges and pre-flight
Security was quick and easy this morning so I was soon heading down the corridor to Galleries First to say good morning to the horse.
And there he was, in all his morning glory, waiting to greet me…
Galleries First was very quiet at this time in the morning. It’s rare to see so few people in here! As I was just passing through, I heading straight to the exit and across the corridor to the Concorde Room.
Every time I cross the corridor to the Concorde Room I pass the BA Speedmarque logo, but only recently took notice of it. It is rather nice…
As I’ve mentioned before, the Galleries First lounge is open to British Airways Gold card holders and Oneworld Emerald members, as well as anyone arriving on a Oneworld first class flight. The Concorde Room is open to people arriving or departing on a British Airways First class flight or members with a British Airways Concorde Room card. Club World passengers with no status may use either Galleries Club North or South or the at the B gates, all of which are nice lounges. A review for Galleries Club South can be found here.
Once again, I handed over my boarding pass, along with my Concorde Room card, and was welcome to the lounge.
As I walked in and turned to head towards the main seating area, I found this chap, happily sleeping on one of the sofas. At least he wasn’t snoring, I suppose!
The lounge was quiet when I arrived, but soon got quite busy. I didn’t hang around for long as I had a treatment booked in the Elemis Spa and wanted to pop down to the shops beforehand to discuss yesterday’s issue at security in Brussels.
I headed downstairs to World Duty Free and asked to see a supervisor. One of the women serving came over and I explained what had happened. She relayed the problem over the phone to one of her managers who told her there was nothing they could do, which I was most unhappy with so asked to see the supervisor in person. As I was waiting for her, another supervisor came over so I explained the situation once again. She was far more understanding and confirmed that new bags had been introduced that day, but that they were not supposed to be used for duty free products that would be going through security again. All seems a bit confusing to me! Why not just have one bag for everything to prevent this sort of thing…?
Anyway, the end result was that she advised me to write in to the customer service team, stating the issue, quoting her name and requesting a refund. Apparently it should all be sorted fairly quickly so watch this space!
Whilst walking through the airport I popped into Dixons to look for replacement headphones after leaving mine on the Brussels flight yesterday. I was rather pleased to find that they had the exact same headphones on special, almost half price at £128, so I grabbed a box and paid for them, making sure to collect the Heathrow Rewards points!
Once I’d finished shopping I headed up to the Elemis Spa for my treatment, feeling much happier with life. The spa is actually right outside the Concorde Room, so very convenient. I went to reception, checked in and was given a form to fill out whilst waiting for my therapist. She arrived a couple of minutes later and took my behind the curtains to a private area for a facial treatment.
As part of the treatment you sit in a massage chair, which gives you an all over body massage while the therapist works on your face. Over the years the Elemis Spa has had various different types of chair, but these new ones, delivered over the past few weeks, are definitely the best! They hold you in really well and target various parts of your body. You feel quite cocooned!
The treatment lasted about 15 minutes and was very nice. My skin definitely had a glow by the end of it, which was handy as I was worried they wouldn’t let me on the plane with the size of the bags I was carrying under my eyes! Once done, I was offered some samples, which I generally turn down as my bag ends up full of them, and a glass of water.
It’s worth noting that the Elemis Spa is open to all passengers travelling in Club World. Treatments can be booked on the day of travel or when arriving from a long haul flight in Club World and departing onto another British Airways flight from Terminal 5 or Terminal 3. Passengers travelling in First on a British Airways flight can pre-book their treatment 28 days in advance by calling the You First team.
Following my treatment I left the spa and went back to the Concorde Room. I heading straight for the terrace to find a seat and relax until my flight was due to board, but it was very busy so I gave up, went back inside and sat at the bar for a while.
With 50 minutes until my scheduled take off time, I noticed that we were leaving from the C gates, which either means a train ride or a 12 minute walk so I decided it was time to go.
Leaving the Concorde Room, I passed these bears, which appeared before Christmas. They’re kinda cute, but a little odd so I won’t be entirely disappointed to see the back of them.
I left the lounge and headed down the escalators to the lifts which take you to -2, for the train platform, or -4, for the walkways. I was first into the lift and, as I was taking the walkway, I pressed -4. Nobody pressed -2. The other passengers in the lift looked a little perplexed when the doors opened and there was no train platform in sight!
The other passengers in the lift looked a little perplexed when the doors opened and there was no train platform in sight!
After passing underneath B gates, the walkway spits you out at the train platform for C gates. I took the lift up to departures and found my gate, C54.
Boarding was well underway when I arrived at the gate (apologies for the blurry picture!) with boarding group 1 empty, so I headed straight to the desk, handed over my documents and was sent on my way. Note that Club World passengers without Gold or Premier status normally board with Group 2 and can board anytime after Group 2 has started.
I headed down the escalator…
And waited in line to board. It didn’t last too long and soon we were on the plane. It was somewhat odd, being pointed to my seat, rather than being escorted there as they do in first class. They must think people flying in first get lost easily!
And so, here it finally was – My Club World seat. My first impression was that I’d forgotten just how narrow it was, then I remembered that I had never, in fact, flown in this seat type on a 777 before so it was actually all new to me. Previous Club World experiences have mostly been upstairs on a 747, where there is a LOT more space. This just felt rather cramped, mostly because I’d chosen a window seat and the armrest was right against the inner wall of the aircraft. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot nicer than economy, but it definitely feels dated in comparison to other carrier’s business class products, most notably Qatar’s Qsuite.
Once seated, I was quickly offered a pre-departure drink. I ordered a glass of champagne, which was served in one of the new Club World glasses, albeit with a very light pour which barely filled the bottom! I’m not really a fan of these glasses. First of all, I’m a bit of a traditionalist and prefer champagne to be served in a champagne glass. Secondly, the new glasses can be tricky to pick up from above as they taper in towards the top, causing your fingers to slip off. Not such a problem for now, but it did become a problem later, when I was reaching over the top of my meal to pick up the glass. The champagne served was Canard-Duchêne, which I quite like. Certainly much better than some of the brands used recently (I’m looking at you, Castelnau!).
Menus were also handed out so we could choose our meals ahead of take off. The new menu, now catered by Do&Co looked really good, not just in content, but also the quality of the paper. It feels much more upmarket. Better than the First menu, in fact.
I was tempted by the Papdi Chaat as a starter, but in the end I went with the salmon, followed by the Butter Chicken main course. More on those later. One nice touch here is that it was made clear to me that I would get my first choice due to BA status. I know of at least one other blogger who recently had an issue with this when travelling in First, despite his status, which must have been very annoying! I was also asked at this stage what I would like to drink after take off. I ordered more champagne and a glass of sparkling water, not yet realising just how long it would be before those would arrive…
It was now 9.50am and time to take off, but by 10am we were going nowhere. The Captain announced that there was a problem, caused when luggage was being loaded – One of the machines hit and dented the cargo door and it would have to be replaced before we left. Safety first!! He couldn’t give us a timescale at this stage as they had to get hold of the part, but promised updates every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, this announcement was followed by one saying that the bar could not be opened on the ground so no more alcohol could be served! Cue large groans across the cabin…
On the bright side, that gave me time to check out the seat fully.
Overall, it’s actually not too bad, but it does have some major flaws. First of all, as I mentioned before, it feels claustrophobic by the window on this particular aircraft. I believe it’s much the same on the 787 and downstairs on the 747 and A380 as the side of the aircraft is so close. Upstairs on the A380 and 747, the window seats have a large storage binnacle, which gives about 10-12 inches of space between your shoulder and the window.
The aisle seats seem to be more open and spacious but does sacrifice privacy, which is fine on a day flight but definitely less desirable overnight.
In terms of storage around the seat, this little drawer is essentially all you get, which can be a real problem, as I found to my cost, when trying to get out of or into the seat when carrying something or when the table is down. Later in the flight my glass of Coke ended up all over the floor as I tried to manoeuvre myself back into the seat!
Let’s talk now about the most important function of a business class seat – Sleeping! British Airways was first to introduce a lie-flat bed in Business Class, but that was almost 20 years ago and it has barely changed since! So, how does it stack up against the competition? Surprisingly well, actually, despite its age.
Seat position is controlled by buttons underneath the TV screen, allowing full control between sitting upright and lying flat. There is also a button to put the seat easily back into the upright position for landing.
Although it is classed a lie-flat seat, it doesn’t go completely flat, but it does come pretty close. Certainly flat enough to feel very comfortable.
The lower part of the bed is made up from the foot stool, which is dropped into position by turning the lever at the bottom to release it.
It then connects with the end of the seat to form the full bed. Although it’s not quite the same width and sits at a slight different height to the rest of the seat, this is not really noticeable when you’re lying down.
Now onto the bedding, which is where the biggest change has taken place. When you arrive onboard, the new bedding, supplied by The White Company, is already waiting for you at your seat. This includes a large, soft pillow and a zipped case containing the rest of the bedding.
The pillow is incredibly soft and comfortable. Quite possibly the nicest pillow I’ve ever experienced onboard, and possibly off. Unwrapped, the bedding provided includes a thin mattress, a soft duvet and a day blanket.
Unlike in First, you make the bed up yourself by putting the seat into its flat position, releasing the foot stool and rolling out the mattress cover.
You then add the duvet on top and you have a bed! So, what’s the bed like for comfort with the new bedding place? Incredibly good, actually. I was very impressed by it. The new bedding makes a huge difference. The downside, however, is that the space is just a little too narrow to get a really comfortable night’s sleep. A bit like trying to sleep in a double bed with your partner on one side and the dog on the other. There really isn’t enough room, no matter how hard you try to make it work. It’s just about acceptable, but not that great. So, top marks for the bedding, high marks for comfort, but a mediocre score for space.
The worst part of the seat, though, is when stepping in and out of the aisle to or from a window seat or one of the two middle seats when the person on the outside has their footstool down. There is no way around it – You simply have to step / climb / jump over it. This is the scene I faced when trying to get into and out of my seat throughout the flight. It’s a ridiculous design that should never have made it onto the plane.
Coming back to the White Company bedding, the day blanket included in the pack feels like a bit of an after thought. It’s quite thin and rough and definitely not on a par quality wise with the rest of the bedding. It’s usable, but not great.
The White Company also supplies the new amenity kit that is handed out to Club World passengers. The bag alone is a HUGE improvement on the old ‘shoe bag’ that BA used to hand out.
The smart, faux leather pouch contains –
- Eye mask
- Ear plugs
- Dental kit, containing tooth brush and tooth paste
- Flight socks
- Lip balm
- Pulse point oil
The pulse point oil is supposed to help you relax in flight. Whether it does or not may be open to question, but it certainly smells and feels nice when you apply it. The eye mask is also an improvement over the old one and now actually does a good job of blocking out the light, which leads to a better sleep. Overall, the kit is a welcome addition and feel mush classier than the previous amenity kit.
While the entertainment system works off a touch screen, there is also a remote control stored in the seat, just by your shoulder. It’s an odd place to put it as it’s quite hard to reach, but I didnt use it anyway, other than for the call button, instead using the touch screen.
There is a light in the seat, just above the remote. Oddly, though, the button on the remote doesn’t control it. In fact, the light on the ceiling that it used to control has been removed, so it doesn’t actually do anything. The light built into the seat was vaguely useful, but didn’t really add enough light in a dark cabin.
The headphone socket is to the right of the remote and offers an additional socket for headphones requiring power for noise cancelling as well as those requiring a standard jack.
Below the remote there is a dated component input and a rather useful USB charging point. Unfortunately there is nowhere to store anything you charge, other than on the seat beside you, which can be rather annoying when you’re trying to sleep and your iPad is in the way or, worse, when you lower the seat to the bed position and your phone falls down the side as you forgot you were charging it there! Still, you can never have too many charging points.
The headphones supplied for the flight are woefully inadequate. They’re they same cheap and flimsy headphones that are used in First and my experience has been that they generally don’t work very well. The sound quality is poor and is often accompanied by a crackle or, worse still, sound only works in one ear, which makes them very unpleasant to use. With many other carriers using quality, noise cancelling headphones from respected suppliers like Bose and Bang & Olufsen, it’s time BA upped its game in this department.
The side wall of the seat contains the TV screen and a table. Both are initially folded into the seating casing and released by pressing one of the buttons in the centre. The silver button on the left releases the table, which came out very easily.
Half unfolded, it feels fine and is perfect for holding drinks and snacks.
Fully opened, however, it felt quite flimsy and didn’t sit completely flat. I had to keep a knee under it to keep it sturdy so I could use my laptop and had to do the same to prevent things from falling off when I was eating. I’m not sure if this is just down to age (let’s face it, we all start to get a bit saggy as we get older!) or if it’s a design flaw, but either way it’s quite annoying.
Pressing the button on the right releases the TV screen. In this case, I found it quite hard to get the TV out as the button mechanism was work, but it did eventually pop out with a bit of persuasion.
This is one of the newer screen types in the Club World cabin following a refresh a couple of years ago. At just over 15 inches, the screen feels big enough as it is so close to your face and the quality is actually very good. The content is reasonable, although, from spending so much time on planes, I’ve seen most of the current films so I generally keep my iPad Pro with me , loaded with series from Netflix or Amazon. On this flight, however, I watched Small Feet, an animated film about yetis, which was good fun.
The screen also provided a 3D moving map, which was useful and could be called up at any point throughout the flight to check on progress.
Just above the tray, in the lower casing of the seat, is a proper plug socket, which accepts UK, US and European plugs. This may seem like a standard item you’d expect on a plane, but it’s amazing how many BA aircraft still don’t have them so it’s always nice to find one, especially if it works. There is also another USB socket, which is handy if you want to charge something while it’s in the drawer.
In general, the whole cabin looks a little dated, with cream coloured plastics and lights that wouldn’t look out of place in the 70s. With other carriers moving ahead with the times, this is in series need of a refresh. It’s not an unpleasant place to be, it’s just, well, dated.
By now, almost two hours had passed so I’m not sure who was more relieved, the captain or the passengers, when he announced that a part had been sourced, driven over and fitted to the plan, so we could finally leave!
15 minutes later, we found ourselves turning onto the runway, ready to take off and head to Mumbai…
Once we were finally up in the air and the seatbelt signs were switched off, hot towels were handed out. One thing I noticed, although I didn’t get a picture, is that the towels appeared to be a little thicker than what I remember. Now, the same towels are handed out in First and I haven’t noticed, or been made aware of, any changes so it’s possible that I was just expecting the same, cheap rags that are handed out in Club Europe, but they definitely seemed better.
Ten minutes later, the first drinks order arrived, served with nuts in a bowl. I was really impressed by the water glass. It felt chunky, solid and very good quality. Similar, in fact, to a set of glasses I have at home. Top marks for this one, BA!
One of the awkward things about the Club World seat in the Yin and Yang configuration is that you sit facing a complete stranger. There is a divider between the seats that can be raised, but it comes with some complex etiquette! It has to remain down for takeoff and landing, which means there is then an awkward moment after takeoff when you want to raise the screen for privacy, but don’t want to offend the person in the opposite seat. It’s worse when you’ve been speaking to them before takeoff as that makes you feel even more rude when you decide to hide away in your own little Club World cocoon. In true, British style, I always feel like I have to mumble some sort of apology before putting it up. As it happened, though, in this case my seat neighbour beat me to it and put the divider up first without saying anything, probably fed up at the number of photos I was taking!
About 20 minutes later it was time to eat. I had skipped breakfast, expecting to eat around 11. Thanks to the delay it was now almost 1pm and I was ready to eat the table so lunch was very welcome.
First impressions of the new service is very good. The tray looks better with a slightly larger white cloth, the crockery is clean and has a more upmarket feel and I really like the tray for holding the break basket, butter and a glass. It keeps everything together and clutter free.
The salmon starter was delicious. I know it’s hard to go wrong with simple salmon, but the horseradish cream really brought out the flavour. The salad, on the other hand, was a bit bland.
Once finished, the starter plates were quickly cleared away and my main of Butter Chicken was brought just a few minutes later.
Again, this was a really tasty dish and a huge improvement on catering of old. With this course I had a small glass of the Vina Sutil sauvignon blanc, which would probably have gone better with the salmon, but was still very tasty.
Next up was dessert. My order was taken as my main course plate was being cleared and, with three choices, which is more than I get offered in First, I was completely torn. In the end I settled on the chocolate fondant, which was absolutely delicious.
To top things off, I decided to have the cheese board. This is something that was rarely possible previously in Club World as it was seen as a dessert option, not as a separate course, so you could have either / or. Now it seems you can have both. This will be, to many, I’m sure, a big improvement.
I washed it down with a glass of Graham’s Reserve port. I have no idea who Graham is, but he certainly seemed to have a pretty heavy hand when pouring! I was definitely starting to feel rather tipsy, and quite full, by now so I had my table cleared and I settled down to watch a film.
So far, high marks for meal quality and service. Food in all cabins is an area where British Airways is apparently investing heavily at the moment and it shows. Quality has definitely improved in Club World and I really like the new service standard.
The next phase of the flight was fairly uneventful. I watched Tiny Feet and then got my laptop out to do some work. Once the meal service was finished, the lights in the cabin were dimmed to allow people to sleep. At some point I got up and decided to go for a wander to check out the Club Kitchen.
It seemed okay, but not quite as good as I remember, when it used to contain sandwiches, salads, fruit bowls and other fresh goodies. These days it just seems to be mainly crisps, snacks, chocolates and ice cream.
Let’s be honest, though, how much food do you really need on a 10 hour flight when you’re already being served two meals!?
I spent some time chatting to the crew in the galley and order myself a new travel adaptor from the duty free catalogue as I lost mine again just recently – That happens a lot! I then took a glass of diet coke with me and headed back to my seat. Having manoeuvred over row 15’s foot stool, I tried to find somewhere to put my glass while I cleared some things off my table to get into my seat, stupidly leaving it precariously balanced on top of the centre partition of the seat. It didn’t stay there for long! Luckily it fell onto the floor and not onto my neighbours seat. I don’t think she’d have been too pleased to have been woken up, drenched in coke! I wandered back to the galley and got a fresh glass…
At this point I also swung by the toilet to check it out and it was, to be honest, pretty standard. It felt rather small and cramped, but I suppose we are in a metal tube, 35,000 feet up, hurtling through the sky at 600mph so I can’t really complain. To be honest, it was much the same as the toilets in First, other than the slightly larger business class toilet on some aircraft and the very large upper deck toilet at the front of the A380.
On the bright side, the toiletries are also now supplied by The White Company and they smell amazing, especially the moisturiser.
Walking back to my seat, the cabin actually felt quite calm, despite the number of people in it. I was surprised to see so many of them awake.
Throughout the flight I was able to order drinks by pressing the call bell. I did this twice, and a third time to figure out how to switch on my light, and on all three occasions the crew was very responsive, getting to me in less than a minute.
About an hour before landing, a crew member came round to offer the second meal. By this point it was almost 7pm in the UK so definitely time to eat and I was feeling quite peckish. The options were sandwiches or a dosa. East versus West! I decided to acclimatise myself to the food I would be eating for the next two weeks and went with the dosa. It was really quite nice!
Plates were cleared away quickly and, with 20 minutes to go until landing, the seatbelt sign came on. Floors were checked, bedding put into the overhead locker and soon we were on the ground, 90 minutes behind schedule at 1.30am.
Deplaning was quick as I was still pretty close to the front, but obviously not as snappy as coming out of First.
The walk to immigration was loooong! One of the longest I’ve experienced, but there were some nice sights along the way and plenty of moving floors.
Despite being sent to the wrong queue twice, I did manage to get through immigration fairly quickly and was pleased to find that Uber worked in Mumbai, so I called myself a car to take me to the local Hilton for the princely sum of £3! I did check with the hotel first to see how much they would charge to send a car, but they wanted almost £20 for the 10 minute journey.
As with most modern airport, I had to fight my way through a shopping mall to get landside…
With no baggage to collect, I went straight through the baggage hall without stopping. I wasn’t even asked to scan my bag at customs as I only had hand baggage.
Finally I had arrived in India! By now it was 2am so I headed to the dedicated Uber pickup point to find my ride.
Flightguys verdict on Club World
BA’s partnership with The White Company, alongside the new Club World catering, has definitely made a big difference to the quality of the Club World product. However, it is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig. There is no denying that the current Club World seat is way past its sell by date. It is, after all, almost 20 years old and, while once a leader in the sector, it now languishes regularly at the bottom of passenger surveys and quite rightly so. On its own it would probably still be perceived as being just about okay, but the competition has moved so far ahead, providing larger, more comfortable suites with all-aisle access, that BA’s product is no longer acceptable. Even American Airlines, long thought of as one of the worst carriers, now has one of the best business class cabins and Qatar’s new Qsuite is in a whole different league.
There is, however, some light at the end of the Club World tunnel. Alex Cruz, BA’s Chairman and CEO, has now publicly confirmed that BA’s new A350 aircraft, with delivery of four aircraft due in 2019, as well as two 777s from the current fleet, will have a brand new Club World seat fitted. Unfortunately the rollout across the rest of the fleet is expected to last at least until 2023. Although details of the new seat are being kept firmly under wraps, it does seem that British Airways is moving in the right direction. Let’s just hope they arrive in time!