I had previously wrote about my jaunt to London with a good friend this year to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox in the first ever MLB London Series. I flew Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to get there and my original plan was to book the one-of-a-kind BA Flight 001 from London City Airport (LCY) to JFK.
Unfortunately about two weeks after booking the unique flight, British Airways cancelled A318 transatlantic service for the week of my trip. I was then automatically reassigned to a flight leaving LCY a few hours after I was supposed to arrive at LHR on the first day of the trip. Since this wasn’t going to work I had to call American Airlines who I booked the award ticket through, to get on an alternate flight. I ended up be re-accommodated onto a 747 departing from London Heathrow (LHR). While I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be checking off a bucket list flight, with the Queen of the Skies days numbered I figured another ride on her would be a fine consolation.
This would be my second time riding on a 747 with the first being in 2017 on a Lufthansa 747-8 from Chicago (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA). That time I rode in business class on the upper deck and I was determined to do it again. As you can see by the seating diagram below, British Airways employs a rather dense business class configuration of 2-4-2 on the lower deck. The upper deck has a preferred 2-2 layout and with only 20 seats in the cabin in total it definitely has a more private feel. The upper deck is the place to be.
Unfortunately, British Airways charges for seat assignments in BUSINESS CLASS. While this seems like a move out of an ultra low cost carrier’s playbook, indeed the UK’s flag carrier strictly employs it for all classes below First. The exception is for upper tier elite status members on British Airways or part of the OneWorld alliance. While we fiercely negotiated a free seat assignment due to the involuntary airport and aircraft change it was on the lower deck. Nothing was available on the upper deck at that time.
Luckily I stalked the reservation and miraculously about a month out, two seats on the upper deck opened up. BA was charging £88 each for them. While I’m normally opposed to paying that much for a business class seat that itself has a ticket price in the thousands of dollars, I hastily made an exception to secure seats 63J & K on the upper deck.
Arrival and Check In
After several days in London time came to return stateside. A quick trip on the Heathrow Express brought us to the home of British Airways, Heathrow Terminal 5.
The Club World check in desks are located on the north end of the expansive check in area.
There was a bit of a queue for the Club World desks so much to our surprise we were ushered to the private First Class check in area. It was a swanky area with almost a dozen dedicated desks for first class passengers. The cheery agent got us checked in and our bags tagged for the journey to JFK.
Unfortunately, we were not booked on first class so we could not partake in the private security line and the venerable Concorde Room. After checking in and depositing our hold luggage we proceeded out of the First Class check in area to the expedited security screening line.
Plaza Premium Lounge
After breezing through security, our first stop was the Plaza Premium Lounge. Access was granted to us as American Express Platinum cardholders. The lounge is located on Level 2 in the far northeast corner of the massive Concourse A of Terminal 5. This was my first time in a Plaza Premium Lounge as all of their locations are outside of the US. For a third party lounge it was quite good with comfortable seating and a hearty breakfast spread. The variety of hot food was actually better than the offerings at the BA Galleries Lounge which we visited shortly after. There was also a fully tended bar but it was still a bit early to start drinking again.
The only quirk of this lounge is while the massive windows allow great views of the outside, the morning sun can be brutal. Be sure to remember your sunglasses.
Next stop before hoping on the underground tram to satellite Terminal 5B was the duty free which had a special offering of my favorite gin, Bombay Sapphire. Naturally I had to pick up a bottle of delightful limited edition English Estate gin. I’m just sad that I can’t get it outside of the UK or EU. A return trip might be necessary for this spirit.
British Airways Galleries Lounge T5B
There are three Galleries Lounges in Terminal 5 for British Airways Club World passengers. Two were in the main Concourse A and one was in the middle of the T5B satellite where fortunately our 747 and most widebodies depart from. We took the underground tram on a few minute ride to get to the T5B midfield concourse. The Galleries Lounge is conveniently near where you emerge from the tram station so anyone arriving at the concourse will likely pass it en route to their gate.
The lounge is located in a mezzanine above the terminal had a central check in desk with several separate seating areas. The lounge was not terribly crowded and empty seats were located easily.
There was a central area which had many self service drink offerings of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
A spread of breakfast foods was laid out to the side. Since we had just partaken in a good breakfast at the Plaza Premium Lounge I perused the area and grabbed a small pastry. Most of the food that morning were cold or dry options. If you like a lot of carbohydrates in the morning then there was something for you. If not then I recommend filling up on breakfast at the Plaza Premium Lounge. Of course the food selection was still superior to most domestic US airline lounges.
We grabbed some seats towards the outside of the lounge area which offered obstructed views of the passing aircraft on the tarmac. Since the lounge was located on a mezzanine in the middle of the concourse it’s understandable that views wouldn’t be that great. The lounges in Concourse A had much better aircraft viewing opportunities.
As our departure time neared we headed to our gate where we boarded in Group 2. Like all of Terminal 5 the gate area was expansive but we were efficiently corralled downstairs and off to the long trek to our gate.
On the way we passed gates for many wide body aircraft which is a treat for any aviation geek.
After the stroll down Avgeek Lane we walked down the jet bridge into our awaiting aircraft G-CIVI which was a 23 year old 747-400 painted in OneWorld livery. British Airways has plans on retiring it’s 747 fleet in a few years so I was a treat to be able to fly on her.
Since we were flying Club World on the upper deck once we entered the cabin we immediately proceeded up the stairs.
People like to brag about flying premium cabins and #turningleft but the real treat is #goingup.
With only 20 seats on the upper deck this particular 747 had 12 less seats than my previous upper deck experience on Lufthansa, further contributing to the private jet feel.
Seat and Bedding
The seats were arranged in a 2-2 configuration with a wide aisle, leaving ample room for both the aisle seat which faced forward and the window seat that faced rear.
I had the window seat while my friend had the aisle. The window seat was a nice cozy area with a great view and tons of storage available in the bins along the windows. This is a common feature of most business class cabins on 747 upper decks. Other than these bins however, there wasn’t a ton of additional storage space besides a slot next to the seat and a small drawer just big enough for my shoes.
The IFE screen was large and responsive. It swung out from the side of the seat and locked into place above the tray table. The bifold tray table itself was a bit on the flimsy side but it did the job adequately. Headphones were provided but they were very cheap feeling and I doubt their noise cancelling ability. Not really a big deal to me since I never travel without my own Bose QC25.
There was also the standard amenity kit waiting at the seat with the usual convenience items.
The seat was well padded and surprisingly quite comfortable. When rolled out into a bed the new co-branded White Company bedding offered a great amount of comfort. The pillow was large and firm, exceedingly more comfortable than the bedding on Virgin Atlantic several days before. Ironically this being a daytime flight I wasn’t as concerned with getting sleep but since the bed was so inviting I still managed a few hours of rest. One of the White Company pillows could have greatly improved sleep on my prior eastbound journey.
One of the complaints of the dated BA Club World seats is the lack of direct aisle access for window or interior seats when the aisle seat is converted into bed mode. This is due to the footrest of the aisle seats flipping down and impeding unobstructed access to the aisle from the adjoining seat. This causes a window seat passenger to awkwardly step over the legs of the person sleeping in the aisle seat. It’s not an ideal configuration but unless you have an overactive bladder all flight it’s not a terrible inconvenience. I’ll take the privacy and space of the window seat over being able to get to the lavatory more easily.
Another complaint I’ve seen people have is the close proximity and orientation of the seat pairs. While this isn’t advantageous for solo travelers it’s fantastic if you want to converse with your seatmate. As opposed to being able to look at each other was preferred over Virgin Atlantic’s herringbone configuration which required awkward contortion to talk to each other.
If you did want to avoid awkward stares for 8 hours you could raise the privacy divider which only need to be stowed for takeoff and landing plus the occasional meal service.
While the rest of the aircraft boarded we were offered a pre-departure sparkling wine. The bins next to the window made a nice resting place for this beverage.
After a very quick taxi to the runway we were airborne into a beautiful July sky.
Part of British Airways’ efforts to revamp Club World business class brought the introduction of a Do & Co catering menu. We would be partaking in daytime lunch service on this transatlantic flight.
Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, a drink service was offered with specialty cocktails. I chose the Citrus Gin cocktail which arrived with the standard ramekin of warm nuts.
For a starter I chose the burrata cheese which came with oven-roasted tomatoes, olives, greens and olive oil. It was paired with a trio of rolls. All was very delicious.
For the main course I chose the roasted chicken supreme in a brown ale mushroom jus, soggy vegetables and some kind of potato. Compared to the flavorful starter it was a bit bland but overall still quite edible.
A cheese board finished off the meal nicely.
Afterwards I watched a couple of movies and took a nap. About an hour or so before landing came afternoon Twinings tea service, a tradition that British Airways still carries on. I chose mine and Captain Picard’s favorite; tea, Earl Grey, hot. It was delivered with a selection of sandwiches, a scone and a “Millionarie’s Shortbread.” All were quite tasty.
As we began our descent into the New York area Long Island came into view and after a sweeping approach we landed at JFK for an on time arrival into Terminal 7. Compared to Terminal 4 where I departed from, 7 was really showing it’s age. Upon disenbarking the aircraft we followed a labyrinth of hallways to the international arrivals hall on the lower level. Luckily my Global Entry allowed me to whisk through customs and before long I was curbside.
BA’s Club World tends to get a bad wrap due to old seats that don’t offer direct aisle access. Personally I thought the excellent White Company bedding, comfortable seat and delicious Do & Co catering made up for it. The 747-400, while showing her age is still a treat to fly on, especially on the upper deck where you share the cabin with at most 19 other people. The service was superb and the food selection was generally delicious. British Airways is in the process of finally upgrading their business class seats to more modern Club World Suites with direct aisle access so that should eliminate much of the complaints.
Despite the slightly awkward layout of the seats, they were quite enjoyable. The padding, pillow and bedding were considerably more comfortable than the narrow Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seats. If I was to do it again I would fly BA on a overnight where I think I would be able to get better rest in one of the cozy window side seats.
The pre-flight experience in Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5 was outstanding. Compared to tiny London City Airport (LCY) where I was originally booked to fly out of, the lounges, duty free and opportunities for plane spotting are vastly superior at Heathrow. Although LCY is considerably closer to the City of London, the Heathrow Express made the journey quite and efficient.
My biggest complaint about the trip was the exorbitant fees that British Airways charges on award tickets. I paid a modest 51,750 AAdvantage miles to book the ticket however the over $500 in taxes diluted the value of those miles. Sure the one-way ticket would have cost $8,000 so $500 and some miles I wasn’t using is still a deal but for a hobby where travel is supposed to be as close to free as possible, it stung. Then to pay an additional £88 for a guaranteed seat on the upper deck was a bit insane but to me the upper deck was worth it. No way would I pay for a seat anywhere on the cramped lower deck.
In my mind I was OK with the $500 since it was considerably less than the cash price and for a flight on BA001 it was worth it to me. The enjoyable flight on the 747 upper deck and pre-flight experience at Heathrow Terminal 5 also help to justify the larger than usual cash outlay.
747 upper deck
Tasty onboard dining
LHR Terminal 5 lounges
No direct aisle access while seat is in bed mode
Absurd seat selection fee in business class
Outrageous taxes & surcharges on award ticket
No bucket list flight on BA001
Would I Fly Again?
Yes. Preferably for an overnight flight. I would also book using a program like Cathay Pacific Asia miles which only passes along half the taxes and fees that AA does.