Nick Walton discovers elegance, functionality and a distinct sense of place with British Airways’ Club Suite on a recent flight from Hong Kong to London.
British Airways introduced its Club Suite product in 2020 with the arrival of the airline’s A350-1000 aircraft. The product is a revolution on the carrier’s former business class and firmly places British Airways’ Club World product at the forefront of the business class market.
I checked in using the British Airways app, which is easy enough although there are restrictions on when you can choose your seat based on your status with the airline’s Executive Club loyalty programme – non-members can choose a seat within 24 hours of departure. As British Airways is a member of the oneworld Alliance, at Hong Kong International, after passing through security I made for Cathay Pacific’s The Wing lounge, which is always a rather ho-hum space with equally forgettable service. However, it was closest to my departing gate, number 26 (if you don’t fancy the lounge, there’s a great new spot that recently opened at HKIA). At the gate, the slightly chaotic boarding process was conducted on time and I was soon seated in 16A, a window seat on the port side of the smaller of the two business class cabins, which are 80% full.
Dark, contemporary, and elegant, the British Airways Club Suite is a thoroughly modern business class seat, and one that finally offers all passengers direct aisle access. The A350-1000 Club World cabin features 56 Club Suites, each with a width of 27-inches and a pitch of 79-inches, set across two sections in a 1-2-1 configuration. Designed for maximum comfort and functionality, each 79-inch fully flat bed seat boasts 40 percent more storage than its predecessor, as well as all the elements you would expect from a market leader, including dual USB ports, an AC point, an 18.5-inch touch screen monitor with independent controller (with its own touchscreen), a sliding privacy door, and a bespoke table designed to make the transition between work and dining easier.
There are four storage spaces: an open sleeve at shin level, two housed within the ample armrest (inside one you’ll find the USB ports, headphone jack and entertainment remote), and one at shoulder level (similar to that found on Cathay Pacific), in which I find a bottle of water and a pair of British Airways headphones, although I never travel without my own Bose QC45s. A surprisingly large pillow and bedding was also already provided. At hip height is a built-in controller for the seat position.
A cheerful cabin attendant named Clara served glasses of watch and champagne (unfortunately the Club World amenity kits by The White Company were mistakenly unloaded at HKIA) and quickly we’re taxiing for an on-time departure on our 13-hour 35-minute journey.
When it came time to sleep, the seat converted into a bed in a matter of seconds and the over-sized pillow, also by The White Company, made sleep extremely easy. I’m always hot on flights so I didn’t use the provided duvet and instead simple laid out the mattress topper and was asleep in moments.
Although it took quite a while to begin, especially given the late hour, when the meal service did commence (there is an express service for travellers looking to maximise sleep) it started with a well-made Tanqueray gin and tonic (this is BA after all). However, the menu also offered some intriguing signature cocktails, including the refreshing sounding Gin Zing, gin with citrus and mineral water over ice; and the Johnnie Ginger, with whisky, ginger ale and orange juice, as well as mocktail options and a few beers, including the BrewDog Speedbird OG Transatlantic IPA, made specially for British Airways.
That said, you’ll also want to take a serious look at the wine list, which has been created by Master of Wine Tim Jackson, the first Master of Wine to be employed full time by an airline, and which includes the surprisingly superb Digby Fine English Brut NV, one of four English sparkling wines added to the airline’s revolving roster. Jackson has been tasked with selecting and tasting potential new wines, curating menu descriptions, developing the airline’s wider drinks strategy and sourcing a diverse range of wines from across the globe for customers both in-flight and in the lounges to enjoy. Our flight’s wine options included Heidsieck & Co Monopole Champagne; a J. Bouchon Reserva Sauvignon Blanc from Maule, Chile; an Opta Reserva from Portugal; and a Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Ruby port.
BA recently returned to full-service dining with a brasserie-style experience that showcases provenance and premium ingredients. For this evening flight west, dinner started with a couscous and cucumber salad, with mixed mesclun and cherry tomatoes; and a choice of poached prawn in a celeriac puree with red wine vinaigrette; or cream of mushroom soup with almonds. The prawn was fresh, juicy and zesty thanks to the vinegar.
This was followed by a choice of grilled beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes, carrots, broccoli, courgettes, and mustard thyme gravy; pan-seared salmon with roasted peppers and potatoes and a paprika cream sauce; or satay stir-fried vegetable udon noodles with egg julienne, sauteed mushrooms, choy sum and red peppers. I opted for the beef which, while as little tough for the teethless knives used onboard, was still juicy and packed with flavour.
For dessert we were offered the choice of a cheese plate consisting of edam, blue stilton, and goat’s cheese, served with grapes, pecans, and quince; cheesecake with strawberry and raspberry sauce; fresh seasonal fruit; or an apple, raspberry, and almond Napoleon with vanilla sauce. Cheese and crackers are an indulgence I reserve only for flights and the selection was perfectly contrasting, especially when paired with that Graham’s reserve.
As we soared over the German countryside hours later, breakfast was served, with Club World passengers given a choice of a full breakfast, with scrambled eggs, back bacon, pork sausages, grilled tomato, button mushrooms, and hash brown potatoes; a mushroom omelette with sautéed spinach, cherry tomatoes, baked beans, and hash browns; or Belgian waffles with maple syrup and a vanilla sauce. I had slept well so decided to start my day right with the full breakfast, which was served with fresh orange juice, seasonal fruit and blueberry yoghurt with muesli, raisins, and almonds, and was as good as anything you’re likely to find on terra firma.
The airline’s High Life entertainment system, enjoyed through that crystal clear 18-5-inch monitor, was great, with a comprehensive range of programming, including plenty of classics (I watched The Fugitive with dinner). The remote can be used to control the entertainment system or independently which meant that I could watch my movie on the big screen and monitor our progress on the air map on the remote’s screen. Best of all, BA offers gate-to-gate programming, which is perfect for those long taxis and wait times on the apron.
British Airways also offers a range of wifi options ranging from £2.99 (US$3.80) for messaging on Whatsapp and other message services (but no photos or video) or £14.99 (US$19) for full wifi throughout the flight, and I found the system to be consistent and speedy.
Throughout the flight, the cabin crew were cheerful and attentive, offering a warm and personalised service level that’s rarely seen on Asian carriers today. While the meal service took quite a long time to start, once it did, the service was efficient and proactive, as was breakfast. Clara even checked with passengers in her section if they would like to be woken for breakfast or if they would prefer to remain asleep, a nice touch on a flight that arrives in London at 6am.
At Heathrow, after passing through immigration I made for the British Airways arrival lounge, which offers a hot and cold breakfast buffet, as well as ranks of shower suites, an ideal pit stop before heading into the city.
While previous versions of the British Airways business class product were unpopular, the Club Suite thrusts BA into the ranks of leading global carriers. Couple that with a renewed focus on dining, provenance, and service, and you have a truly regal flying experience
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