Just How Bad is British Airways Club World Business Class?

Previous installments:

My return from Paris to Austin continued with my flying London Heathrow to Austin non-stop in British Airways Club World.

British Airways business class is a controversial product. It’s fully lie flat, which is better than angled, but it’s probably the worst lie flat product out there other than perhaps pre-merger United Boeing 777s. The airline often sells business class at a deep discount through sales, and so the product can be a good value (albeit not as much on award tickets where you’re paying fuel surcharges).

When it’s substantially cheap than the competition it’s value for money. But it’s far from top shelf. It’s also worth knowing that some seats are better – and worse – than others.

British Airways Business Class Used to Be Great, Now it’s a Value Product

British Airways pioneered lie flat seats in long haul business class. The seats weren’t wide or private, but they were classy with blue fabric and brown leather. I actually liked the old lie flat business class seat that I flew a decade ago on British Airways (‘New Club World’) more than the current iteration that feels like a sea of impersonal corporate cubes (‘Next Generation Club World’).

Five years ago I remember going out of my way to choose the older ‘new club world’ seat on a Boeing 767 rather than the new product. And I never actively prefer to fly a 767. While the newer seat is better as a seat I not only preferred the smaller cabin and warmer tones, I liked the older version better as a bed too.

BA business class is due for a refresh, the basics of the current seat began rolling out in 2006 [also when legacy United starting rolling out its seat..] and will eventually get one. But for now it’s a product that is fully flat, so that I’ll take over any remaining old angled business seat. But it’s also one that packs in a lot more people per available space than many other airlines. So it’s business class, which is much better than not business class. But it’s not a premium business class.

Because they have so many seats, they have to do more to fill those seats. Awards are possible, though British Airways awards generally incur fuel surcharges so are costlier than awards issued by US frequent flyer programs for travel on many other carriers. And British Airways frequently discounts the seats.

I was flying on a sale fare that I stacked with the AARP $400 discount and that I stacked with a further discount so I was paying less than coach. I got fantastic value for money with this product.

But I would take American Airlines business class on any new or reconfigured aircraft over British Airways. This is important because the two carriers have a revenue-sharing joint venture and serve some of the same routes like New York – London and Los Angeles – London.

I would also choose Delta business class and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class over BA’s Club World. (It’s not even a question of course when it comes to airlines like Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and EVA Air.)

On the other hand there are still angled business seats on some Air France routes. And I can at least see an argument for why some might prefer British Airways over United and similar 2-2-2 configurations which – while offering more generous space – require the person in the window to climb over the passenger in the aisle seat. BA, at least, staggers seats such that when they climb over a passenger it’s really just that passenger’s feet. It’s an awkward dance to be sure, but one that provides more privacy and that can be done without the other passenger getting up or having to wake them up.

Boarding and Initial Impressions

To reach the flight I had to take a train out to the satellite pier of Heathrow’s terminal 5. While it’s a schlepp, there’s no additional security check and it’s not a bus gate.

Traveling with so many people out to the gate was, in some sense, good preparation for flying British Airways Club World. It did, however, provide for some awesome sights.

Boarding at gate C60 became something of a zoo, but I happened to be towards the front of the queue which is something I like to do because it’s best to take photos before the cabin fills up.

After checking boarding passes and passports we headed down the escalator (another escalator!) to the jetway.

British Airways 777 business class is a huge cabin, a sea of seats, and passengers were getting themselves boarded.

The Business Airways Business Class Seat

Seating on the Boeing 777 is 8-across, configured 2-4-2. They create privacy by staggering forward and backward seats with privacy dividers between seats.

The seat itself is very narrow.

There’s a foot rest / bed extension that folds forward and down.

You have a personal television that folds out and a storage drawer that opens at your feet.

But it does turn into a fully flat bed, albeit a narrow one. You will be sleeping on your side most likely (as I tend to do anyway).

The most private seats are the window seats, backward facing. The most spacious seats, fully exposed, are aisle seats. For a couple traveling together I like an aisle and window although you aren’t really ‘together’.

Traveling alone I would choose between those seats as well, though my first choice would be a forward facing aisle for spaciousness.

If you want to be truly close, take backward-facing middle-of-the-middle seats. Frankly I would hate to have these seats with someone I wasn’t already intimate with.

The seats are surprisingly private. There is a little bit of space where the footrest/bed extension folds down that you climb over to get in and out of the window seats. And the seats do keep you from seeing most of people most of the time, except for their feet.

Dining and Amenities

My seat had a blanket, headphones, and a pillow.

The pillow was among the thinnest I’ve seen. On a flight that isn’t full you may want to grab a second from an empty seat.

Here’s the menu: (Click to enlarge)

There’s no special features to the lavatories, they are similar in-kind to domestic aircraft. Still I managed to change into pajamas I had brought with me (American Airlines pajamas, actually).

Once in the air I began with some water and packaged snack.

Amenity kits were distributed.

Shortly after takeoff meal service began. There’s an appetizer and a salad, and those were served separately from the main course. While flight attendants were friendly, the service quality is limited by the seat. They would pass all food over the passenger in the aisle to reach me in the window. It’s a bit awkward.

We were given chocolates, shrink-wrapped.

I ordered the beef for my main, and it was fine if somewhat overdone.

I chose ice cream for dessert, notably not a sundae.

Didn’t get enough food? There are midflight snacks set up for self-service near the lavatories.

Prior to arrival there was an afternoon tea service.

Conclusion

There’s nothing remarkable about British Airways business class. I find the food and service to be fine Which is to say that staff will help you if you ask, though they have a lot to do. You can eat the food, there is enough so you do not need to be hungry during the flight, although there isn’t anything to really look forward to.

You get a fully flat bed, and that’s the unique selling proposition. So if BA is cheaper, or has the better schedule, it’s perfectly fine. Though all things equal it’s clearly better to choose a carrier that offers a more spacious seat, direct aisle access, and ideally inflight internet.

For me though the price couldn’t have been beat. I even earned a 25,000 mile transatlantic premium cabin bonus for the trip.

And it’s absolutely lovely to land off of a long haul flight and be home in Austin. After a very short walk from the gate and a quick trip through immigration and customs, I was curbside in minutes.

British Airways has the only transatlantic flight that lets me do that, at least until Condor starts Frankfurt service this summer.

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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Pingbacks

  1. […] As I had mentioned, we switched our outbound flights from PDX-DFW-LHR (in First, dammit!) to PDX-YVR-LHR (in Biz). This was a big change, first because we went from BA First (which is generally regarded as Super Nice) to BA Biz (which beats a kick in the head, but is nowhere near as nice). We also changed from a 747-400 to an A380-800, either of which would be a first for both of us (I know, really?) For BA, even in Biz on either you at least get a lie-flat seat that really does go fully flat, but the last two feet or so is a big footrest that goes flat and makes up the support under your calves. Also, the seats flip in orientation across the row, so you always are facing someone else through a partition that has to be down for takeoff, landing, and any service, and you usually will have to step over someone else’s legs to get to the aisle if you don’t have an aisle seat, or someone else will be stepping over your legs if you are in the aisle. Naturally, all these have won BA endless accolades for their Biz seating (not.) […]

Comments

  1. The wine in Club World is much better than the $12 swill AA tries to pass off.

    Always felt though UA and BA would have been better alliance partners back in the day. Why didn’t that come to fruition in the late 90s?

  2. An accurate review of a thoroughly mediocre product, Gary. I’d take British Airways business class over United for the added privacy of the seats (once the dividers are raised, post take-off) and the somewhat more consistent flight attendant service. On the other hand, there’s now no contest with American’s far superior lie-flat business class.

    I wonder if British Airways sometimes does better than it should in the USA because of Americans’ respect for All Things British (except for the food). But really, in both first and business classes, it’s a middling airline.

  3. Gary, I’m pretty sure you’re not over the age of 50. How were you able to get an AARP deal? Just wondering if this is a legit deal that can be had, or if it’s only available for those under 50 who choose to be a bit ethically dubious.

  4. I had my first experience flying BA Club World the other day, and I was really impressed. I was on the top deck of a 747 from Heathrow to Chicago, in a window seat.
    The seat was possibly my favorite biz class seat that I’ve ever been in- as good as Cathay, and better in some ways. I’m a bigger guy (6′ tall, 220 pounds) with broad shoulders, and this was one of the only seats I’ve ever been in where I felt comfortable. I also loved the width of the legroom at the bottom- I could move my feet and legs around without banging them against the sides.

    The food was only OK, but the wine list was nice, and the crew was really top notch.

    I wonder how much different the seats are on the 747 vs the 777 that Gary flew?

  5. Thanks for the review. I too took advantage of the promo BA Biz fare and will be flying the A380 upper deck in June.
    I do however disagree that the US Legacy Carriers have a better product. Having flown AA’s newest Biz product on the 777-300ER, I can say that while the hard product is nice- the service, catering and attitude are awful. There was absolutely NOTHING special about the experience, and the wines were terrible for a business class product.
    While BA’s hard product looks a bit awkward, I think the right seat looks private/comfortable enough, and at least their catering looks presentable and the wine selection is definitely elevated relative to any US carrier offering. I’ll take Tattinger any day!

  6. It sucks! Flew it recently on one of the cheap fares. I was really uncomfortable. I would choose AA angled seats over this any day.

  7. One thing to point out that is a nuisance item with BA is that they do not allow advance seat selection on discount business fares (unless you have certain one world status, or unless you pay).

    That could be a deal breaker if you’re picky about seats. You can pick seats for free at checkin, though I could not figure out how to make changes after checked in (if you’re OCD and want to see if something better opens up).

  8. Hi Gary, Great review! I am traveling on the same sale next month and have a few questions. At what point in the process should you add your AA number to the reservation? I want to earn AA miles but do not want to inhibit my ability to still manage the trip via BA.com. Also, how quickly do BA flights usually post to AA account? During booking it also allowed me to enter my business extraa account so also wondering how quickly those post.

    I’m flying the 747 in the upper so hopefully the smaller cabin makes the trip a good one!

  9. good review..we took two trips to europe so far in BA club world and AA 77W due to last year fire sale and one more is lined up in July. Although BA club world is nothing special, my wife and kid really liked the center seats as they can sit together and bed is comfortable..we are not over-sized so narrow bed is not an issue for us…service was OK. whereas AA 77W seats were modern and spacious but too private for sitting and paying attention to kids

    if the price is right..BA club world is comfortable enough to get you across the pond specifically if you are with family

    the only thing which we hated was intra-europe club world ..that should not even exist

    on another note, we recently flew AA 787 to PEK and for a family with kids that felt like right combination of modern luxury and privacy as alternate row is backward facing which are idle for families and window seats have needed privacy for some with only downside cabin being not so spacious

  10. Maybe I missed it, but where were you flying from and too? I bought same fare last fall too, fly it next month. Was the 25,000aa all from BA?

  11. @shaun I added my American AAdvantage number just before check-in for my outbound flight, only waiting so that I could use BA miles to upgrade the outbound portion of the trip. You can change it at will online using the finnair or royal jordanian sites usually. That may or may not inhibit use of Manage My Booking on the BA site. BA trip posted to AA within a couple of days.

  12. Your photographs of passengers using the escalators prompts me to say that all of the flight personnel consistently use the lifts, not the escalators, to go up to immigration. Faster—and for those of us who must wait in line an earlier entrance to the queue.)

    By the way, I virtually always order the beef entree but am usually disappointed in how gray it is. You’d think they could get that right. (Or perhaps that;s how they want it?)

  13. BA Business Club World Business is really bad, the only worse long haul than this one I can think is the AA old 767 angle flat seats.

  14. @techoin, I will be taking my family on the PEK-Dfw 787. Were any/all of the middle seat dividers permanently up or permanently down? There are 6 of us, so I have booked all window seats in the mini cabin and am trying to make sure that the two middle seats I get can have the divider down.

  15. In the past 18 months I have flown British Airways Economy, Business Class, and First Class SF-LHR Round trip.

    Economy Class: Not bad for economy class. The most comfortable economy class seat I have ever flown in.

    Club World Business Class: I flew in the 747 upper deck.
    Not impressed. Seats are narrow, monitor is low quality, service is the same as economy class, and the seat configuration is really bad. The only thing good is the lie flat seat.
    I also flew the new SQ and JAL Business Class last year and there is no comparison whatsover.
    A more appropriate name would be: Business Class Minus , or Low Business Class, or Super Premium Economy.

    First Class: Not bad but not great. Service is comparable to or slightly below Business Class service on the top Asian Carriers.

  16. Dividers start off down but can be raised by the passengers at any time once the pre-take-off safety briefing has concluded. General established etiquette when seated next to a stranger is that if one of you wants it up, it goes up. Divider is then allowed to stay up until the point when the seatbelt signs go off after landing.

  17. Your review is spot on with the fact that BA has become much more pedestrian and I only use this product when less expensive or more convenient. The food is definitely average and the passing of food over another passenger when I am in the window seat is awkward. And even more so when they lower the divider but don’t put it back up. I just flew AA 777-300ER new product and the food was as good as BA and the seats were really private and excellent. I think the service on either of these carriers is always crew dependent, and I had one good and one average on BA and AA.

  18. Good review but I was still looking for the tips on seat selection. My recollection is that there are a few middle seats that have direct aisle access without jumping over anyone. Good for couples that don’t care about windows (and similarly the adjoining aisle are good for those who don’t want people crawling over them midflight). I guess I will go to flyertalk.

    Also worth noting that BA generally offers better beer and wine than any domestic carrier. And the food is much better than Emirates, at least for those of us who don’t want bland food when we fly. You also left out the lounges which are usually better than any USA carrier (and certainly LHR T5 is MUCH better).

    Finally there are the Chase 241 certs which are actually usable, albeit with the horrid “fuel surcharge” garbage fees. Personally I’d rather fly BA (or UA) and collect miles that I can actually use, than fly a slightly better product on DL where I earn worthless skypesos. But that’s just me, other people have different priorities…

  19. Definitely incorrect about legacy United rolling out its seat in 2006. The announcement was made in late 2007, and IIRC the seats weren’t put into service until 2008.

  20. UA and BA used to have a marketing arrangement and codeshares back in the 70s and 80s which is why they shared T8 at JFK. However, the emergence of the three major alliances in the 90s led to a major realignment of partners. (AC used to have such arrangements with both BA and CX, but these were also swept away with the arrival os STAR and ONEWORLD.

  21. One thing to remember in Terminal 5 at LHR is NEVER to take the escalators which go on and on forever; ALWAYS take the elevators/lifts. You will note all the crews make straight for them, because they know….. Also, in Club World upstairs on the 747, seats 62A and 62K are emergency exit seats, and there is a clear path to and from them from the aisle, no climbing over people’s feet. But those are the first seats to go in prebooking.

  22. Flew this route 3/24/16 on a 787. We used a bus gate, which is a major annoyance of BA @ LHR and at other Europeon airports. I have also flown on a BA 747 with these horrible J seats. The cabin is way too crowded and the seats are too narrow. There is no shoulder room and the seat provides sufficient space only for children or petite adults. I found the food to be average, but the service to be poor. Instead of distributing menus, the FA handed you a menu and waited for you to make your selections. The crew was pleasant enough, but lazy. They served lunch and distributed water, but then retreated to the galley, never to be seen again. I will avoid LHR in the future. I will never book BA for a long haul flight again unless it is my only choice.

  23. It is most distressing to see all the bad comments about BA. Surely the management regime of IAG who have been responsible for policy in deciding to produce a non-competitive reconfiguration of seat design, and fit the worst business class layout that is universally hated, can be held accountable? These people (I will not name the chief perpetrator for fear of legal action) are obsessed with share value to boost their options, but will eventually destroy what was once truly a favourite airline. Beautiful 787 and 380 aircraft converted to uncomfortable carriers.

  24. This description is dead on except my fairy cake was yellow :). I was upgraded from my World Traveler Plus seat (extra leg room economy) on a flight from Heathrow to Chicago yesterday. As a woman traveling alone I was in one of those middle-of-the-plane seats with a strange man. I felt uncomfortable in such an intimate space and out of sight of anyone else with the partitions up. Also, it was vaguely embarrassing to have all my food handed to me over the partition across the aisle seat so another stranger in that seat had to wait for me to be served before he could start eating his food.
    The only thing I liked was the little drawer next to the seat to stash stuff. I hope I never get upgraded to that kind of seat again!

  25. Gary, any idea if the exit seats are different in this setup? Does the insider passenger still need to jump over someones legs to go to the bathroom or are the exit seats with more room? Thanks

  26. I flew Club World between London and Dubai this week and have to say you are spot on with your review, even down to the beef being over cooked (I didn’t eat mine as I decided that I was not sufficiently hungry to chew shoe leather and sent it back, the mezze starter is also not a mezze by the way – just a couple of piles of hummus.

    It is also worth mentioning that the the lounges at T5 are nowhere near gates you used, they are located before you go to the train to get to the gates. This means that you don’t really get to use them unless you clear security a couple of hours before the flight. I felt cheated as as far as I am concerned I had paid for access in my premium ticket (which was a full price Business class ticket by the way – more expensive than Emirates or Etihad). I will not be back to BA again for a long while.

    A thoroughly depressing experience

  27. Well I’m not a bit surprised,keeping their shoebox design for seats,which ranks more thought for shareholders than passengers. The BA “Management” ought to travel Singapore Airlines,Emirates,Cathay Pacific,Qatar,Ana to see how it should be done. As a further note here is a list of “Best Airlines in the World” RATED 1-10. by Skytrax- 1st Emirates, 2nd Qatar,3rd Singapore, 4th Cathay Pacific, 5th ANA, 6th Eithad, 7th Turkish, 8th Eva Air, 9th Qantas and finally Lufthansa in 10th. Please note BA is not even rated in the first ten!

  28. I chooe BA Biz Class BOS-LHR-STR, they typically offer pretty good discounts on this route depending on which day of the week you you book. Much better pricing than Luftansa, Air France, other major airlines on European Routes. That being said, there is no Leg of this flight more than 6-7 Hours long. For that distance and time of day, the seat is fine. However I could never choose this seat for my flights to Asia, 10-15Hr Flights. On those routes it is a far inferior product for the money.

  29. This review is a calculated attack on British Airways. You should be ashamed of you bias review. Poor Work

  30. If you fly the London-Singapore route and you think the BA business seats are too narrow (which in my experience, they are), try Singapore Airlines. They put 4 seats across, while BA puts 8 across. The seat is so wide that I feel like Ronnie Corbett sitting in his story-telling seat. When my daughter was under 2, she flew for free. I used to have her sleeping with me in the same seat, comfortably. Google the SQ images. See for yourself. Money is about the same.

  31. Thanks for an accurate review–so far as it goes, and so far as male passengers are concerned. I’m a 73-year-old, still athletic and strong female who flew out of Dulles in a forward-facing aisle seat to Heathrow, and in a rear-facing middle seat from Heathrow to Dulles. And, yes, there’s a big difference between the two seats, not all measured in comfort. As a female in an inside seat (especially on red-eyes), there’s next-to-no chance of climbing over a sleeping passenger in the adjacent aisle seat or of climbing over the sleeper next to you. Regardless of how a woman’s attired, she doesn’t climb over a near-two-foot-high (living) obstacle on a plane. But that’s only the beginning of the problems posed by the inside, two-seat, rear facing compartment: both my handbag and small carry-on laptop bag were relegated to the overhead bin before take-off, and I never saw them again until deplaning. No access to medicine, laptop, phone, book/kindle, Nicorette!, etc., for the duration of the flight. Equally as disconcerting were the placements of TV screen (operable only by getting out of the seat), the remote control for the TV (behind my right shoulder, reachable either by getting out of the seat or twisting onto a hip), the floor-level “storage” drawer which couldn’t be accessed if the foot-stool was extended, and ALL the seat-adjustment buttons along the right hand “wall” which required left-handed manipulation even after you moved forward off the seat. But two other bothersome conditions existed in both flights: the height and depth of the overhead cabins, and the ridiculous “privacy” screen. At 5’5″ I was barely able to push my two small bags in, but utterly unable to remove either. The screen, however, was perhaps the worst of all BA’s design-“solution.” While it’s a fact that I absolutely DON’T want to be facing another passenger at any time, I also don’t want to be the anti-social party who first launches the rise in the screen! Nor do I want a steward of whose presence I’m entirely unaware lowering the screen to serve me a meal or a drink or a snack.

    And speaking of food: On a Friday in Lent, this essentially western company offered four entrees– two meats, one unenticing, carb-heavy, bean-y vegetarian dish, and shellfish. This last offering struck me as rather ironic because an announcement from the cockpit had warned all passengers not to eat their own peanuts because one of them was “severely allergic.” Had a passenger been “severely allergic” to shellfish, would BA have pulled the prawn entree?

    I’ve got a trip to Mumbai coming up. It won’t be on British Air.

  32. We flew BA from LAX to LHR to AMS. I have to say I was shocked we were not seated together. We weeee not going to pay the $240 total to sit near each other. The seats offer zero privacy. It is business economy! Coming home we paid the xtra $ to sit by my husband . Besides flying backwards-the outside person is disturbed when food is being passed over his or her head. To use the restroom, you are climbing over another persons feet! Use another airline!

  33. I flew with british airways in business class from from KL to London by using B777-200 model aircraft, then I just realized that the business class seat design is awful and exactly no privacy, I think premium economy will be much better than business class, the only thing different is you have to pay more.
    Can you imagine that if you sit on the window side, then when you want go to washroom you need to cross over another passenger foots if he or she is in sleep. My advise to BA please refer to JAL business class if you want squeeze the seat in the business class.

  34. I flew BA club world from Phoenix to London a couple of days ago, 6 hour notice. I upgraded at the airport because I had a 5 hour layover and another 9 hour flight to Delhi. I paid $1099 to upgrade. The worst money I think I’ve ever wanted. Horrible narrow seats (unless you are skinny and many of us aren’t) you will suffer. Granted it’s better than economy but I’ve never flown a worse business product. I’m returning via Hong Kong on Cathay and American today, free business upgrade from Delhi to Hong Kong (amazing seat and service) and mileage upgrade on AA. I’m AA Execplat, in the last 5 months 125,000 miles flown.

    The BA seat was horrible. I was in Middle rear facing seat. 19F. Basically you are merged with the guy beside you. Might be ok for couples but horrible for two large men. Th entertainment screen is ancient, like 7 inches of low dfnination. Think flip phone. Mine broke in seconds. After an hour of trying to reboot it they moved me to a much better aisle seat. More comfortable but the privacy screen thing is like a prison. I hated the fact that they fought attendents have to open it to pass food over, almost knocking me in the face. Of course looking at the person opposite from 5 inches away is also not pleasant. I hated every moment of my BA fought. The best part was leaving the plane.
    The next leg To Delhi was a brand new 787. Sadly BA has put in the exact small low quality cabin on a state of the art aircraft. Same low definition TV screens.
    I’ll stick to Cathay and AA from now on. Or if I’m stuck on BA it will be in economy suffering but at least some more cash in my pocket.

  35. I literally got off the BA flight from Singapore to Sydney this morning.. as my Qantas flight was cancelled and i was put on this god awful cabin. This is not a standard of Business that I have been exposed to. Absolutely abhorrent! seat configuration is beyond my comprehension.. there are 8 seats across each aisle… 8!!!! economy has 9 do the math! very uncomfortable as the aisle is narrow and i kept getting hit in the shoulder.. and the other passenger kept hitting my feet every time he climb over.. i couldn’t rest or sleep as this kept happening quiet often. I will be complaining to Qantas as this is not what I had paid for.. I guess if the seats are reasonably cheaper than virgin, qantas or sq then yep i can see the benifit, but for me this was the worst business flight I have been on .. China eastern have a better configuration…

  36. I just use BA business class in once from KL to London then to Milan, after from Geneva to London then to KL. After that I never use BA anymore that’s the most funniest and worst business class seat in the world.
    Honestly Indonesia Garuda business class no matter is domestic flight or international flight their business class in term of seat and services are much better than BA.

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