Review: Did I Fly Spirit Airlines or British Airways Club Europe: London Heathrow – Paris Orly?

On arrival at London Heathrow I had a scheduled 1 hour 20 minute connection, and that was cut down 10 or 15 minutes by traffic getting into Heathrow.

Fortunately this wasn’t like the bad old days of coming into a terminal 1 bus gate, busing to terminal 1 then busing to terminal 5 before taking a train to the far gates of T5.

Instead we arrived at gates that required taking the train in, but that didn’t take but a few minutes. Then after a short walk there was no wait at passport control to speak of. The only queuing would be for premium security which took about 10 minutes.

That meant though there wouldn’t be any time to visit the Concorde Room, or really even spend time at any lounge other than for a quick use of the restroom. It was straight to the gate for the short Paris-Orly flight.

There was plenty of lounging going on at the gate, though!

Less than 10 minutes after I’d arrived at the gate they began boarding.

And that’s where it hit me. I had read about the reduced seat pitch in British Airways intra-European business class, “Club Europe.” I knew it was 30 inches. But surely it had to be a spacious 30 inches. Like Donald Trump’s hands, it wasn’t.

I wasn’t impressed the last time I few between Paris-Orly and Heathrow and that’s when Club Europe had 34 inch pitch.

Now there’s no more legroom in business class than there is in coach, and it’s an inch less legroom than the major US airlines offer in coach.

Instead, British Airways “Club Europe” is coach with a blocked middle seat and a cold meal tray. Plus lounge access and priority boarding, of course, which you receive with mid-tier elite status anyway.

A top British Airways sales executive once told me that ‘they lose money on Club Europe but their long haul business class customers expect something better than economy for their connections’ — in other words they believed that long haul was subsidizing short haul. In fact they had the economics of it backwards. They needed to offer a decent short haul product in order to attract long haul premium cabin flyers, and were thus just allocating the revenue wrong in coming up with their money-losing calculations.

And it’s certainly jarring to come off of long haul first class, even British Airways first class, to 30 inch pitch.

I’m not tall, but 30 inch pitch means that I have to angle my laptop bag to get it under the seat. It’s not like my knees are butted up against the seat in front of me, but that’s hardly the only issue. The top of the seat ahead so close can be claustrophobic. (Though it means no underseat storage, it’s advisable to take the bulkhead in British Airways Club Europe because there’s more legroom.)

Whenever I think about the lack of predeparture beverages in domestic first class, or long for the days when US airlines made more of an investment in first class meals than they do today, I think of intra-European business class and I’m suddenly grateful. Europhiles excuse the offerings by saying that most intra-European flights are short, but most domestic US routes are too (about half of American’s domestic route network is under 500 miles). I’d still love a better product in domestic first on flights over three hours, though.

Looking back at coach, I realized I liked the blocked middle seat and being at the front of the plane. But more or less that’s what I was getting by being in ‘business’ on this short morning flight.

I did get a nice cold deli plate. And there’s booze if that matters to you.

The flight is 228 miles, about the distance between New York and Washington DC. So this was more than fine for the short segment. But Chuck Schumer wants to outlaw 31 inch pitch in the US. To find a product in the US offering less legroom you have to look to low cost carriers like Spirit Airlines.

We weren’t in the air terribly long, and we arrived at Orly which is a wonderful airport to clear immigration at (no lines) and from which to get into the city (closer and faster). And I certainly got value for my money on the ticket. I’m not complaining, but I’d never spend more for the Club Europe product and I wouldn’t even go out of my way to secure award space in Club Europe versus merely coach for a flight of this distance.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Thanks, Gary. It really is something seeing the sad state of shorthaul premium cabins in Europe. Like you, I’m much more grateful for what is offered in the U.S. I just wish others were more willing to highlight these shortcoming when talking up how great European premium longhaul yes.

    Don’t get me wrong, it is better, but if you have to connect to one of these flights, is it really better overall?

  2. I don’t really see the point to compare that flight to Spirit. Did BA charge you for a seat assignment, or charge you for your carry on or checked bag?

    Or maybe you have not flown Spirit so you don’t really understand the comparison? (I have not flow Spirit but do think a blocked middle seat and food and drink as nowhere close to Spirit style…)

  3. Totally agree. Would rather have an economy plus seat with a middle passenger than a BA shorthaul business seat. I’ve got a 3 hour flight on one of these coming up this summer.

    What does seat pitch have to do with your laptop bag going in sideways though? That doesn’t make sense.

  4. Just flew LHR-DUB on BA club europe and was disappointed. 30 inch pitch slimline type seats with blocked middle and food. Couldn’t cross my legs or get comfortable. I say they forget the food on these short flights and give us more leg room.
    Spirit Big Front seats are light years ahead of this. Sadly I have the return DUB-LHR route tomorrow morning.

  5. Why were you queuing for passport control at Heathrow if your onward flight was to France?

  6. Not a europhile at all, but often forgotten is that 53% of U.S. domestic departures on American Air!lines (and similarly on other airlines) is on regional jets, who were much more cramped and more claustrophobic and offer no or barely any food. Yes, I avoid BA for long haul business/first because of the crappy seats on my European connection, but I can only dream of BA and it’s food when stuck in one of the many RJs in the U.S., some 3+ hours long!!

  7. I just flew from CDG to LHR on BA in Club World and was rather shocked that it was a regular coach seat (as you show) with that weird tray in the middle. Fortunately I am short so it didn’t bother me as much and as you said, the flight is short. However the people in the bulkhead couldn’t put anything overhead above their seat since those bins were full with the attendant’s stuff and emergency equipment. They had to move their stuff two rows behind.

  8. Given the number of captive premium passengers BA has in London, there’s no need for them to offer a better product, especially when this is comparable to what AF/LH/etc. offer.

    It’ll be interesting to see what LX decides to do with the C-series, which is designed for a 2-3 cabin in Y and 2-2 in J. A 2-3 configuration with blocked seats in J gives you 3 passengers per row, whereas a 2-2 with proper J seats gives you 4. Might we see the return of a true J cabin to a major European carrier?

  9. @Daniel I don’t think too many speak up the quality of Euro longhaul much outside of LH and maybe Swiss and Turkish?

  10. BA has the nerve to charge for seat assignment in a Club Europe! Even if you fly long haul in First with a connection to Club Europe they will assess a seat reservation fee on the C E flight. A 30 inch pitch for a “premium” product is laughable.

  11. I flew this specific route after coming in from a transatlantic from EWR last summer. Orly was a chaotic airport to arrive in and perhaps I should have chosen more wisely and gone to CDG. The early Saturday morning arrival was packed mainly with folks from the French departments in the Caribbean and the baggage claim and arrival areas were smelly and crowded.

    The seat was the tightest I’ve been in, felt squeezed, and even in Club Europe (row 2) it really doesn’t make much of a difference. However, I found that the full English breakfast was satisfying enough. The T5 Main Galleries Lounge was nice.

  12. @Iolaire McFadden – British Airways does charge for Club Europe seat assignments, I actually left that sentence out about how I avoided that charge based on elite status. And Spirit pitch.

  13. “Stop with the snide political comments you miserable cunt.”

    Another Trump supporter keepin’ it classy!

  14. I was really mad to fly this new Club Enrope last month. The interior design is much swanky but that doesn’t help with shitty 30″ pitch. I would fly the old version with much more legroom.

  15. I’m a Canadian who flew BA Faro to LHR last June in Club. I’m 6’8″ expecting some decent legroom. What a shock. I had to sit sideways. BA is a disgrace with this kind of seating. Additionally, Their First class is very mediocre and has all sorts of surcharges on Avios points renewal, when you can get a flight! Have 1.1 million Avios left. Using them all on Cathay Pacific and or other partner airlines. Will never fly BA again.

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