Review: We flew the new British Airways Club Suite on the inaugural A350 flight!

This article is a follow-on from last week's ‘first impressions‘ post where British Airways invited media professionals to attend the delivery of their first A350-1000.

As I (Tim) was not able to attend the inaugural flight, I sent along our reporter Oliver instead to do the hard work and sample the new Club World for me.

Over to you Oliver…

Introduction

British Airways invited Points to be Made, amongst other selected journalists and bloggers, to experience the first commercial flight of their newly-delivered Airbus A350-1000, registration G-XWBA.

The highlight of course was the much anticipated and greatly improved business class seat – the Club Suite.

Check-In

Flight: BA 460
Aircraft: Airbus A350-1000 (Registration G-XWBA)
Route: London Heathrow (LHR) – Madrid (MAD)
Scheduled Departure: 13:20 (Actual: 13:40)
Scheduled Arrival: 16:45 (Actual: 16:30)
Scheduled Duration: 2hr 25min (Actual 2hr 10min)
Runway Departure: 27L at LHR
Runway Arrival: 18L at MAD
Seat: 10F, Club World (Club Europe short haul catering)

 

My day began at check-in desk H1, which was specially reserved for this inaugural flight. The BA PR team was very welcoming, and we made our way through the First Wing fast-track security and straight to the Galleries lounges.

 

Lounge and Press Debrief

For this special event, BA reserved a corner of the Galleries lounge at Terminal 5B, where CEO Alex Cruz gave a 20-minute speech introducing the new aircraft and other business matters.

Amongst other things, Alex discussed the following:

  • BA will get 18x A350-1000 aircrafts, with 4 by the end of 2019.
  • All cabins, especially Club Suite are vastly improved and redesigned.
  • The aircraft burns 25% less fuel compared to other long-haul aircrafts in its fleet.

For the rest of August (with the exception of a few days – buyer beware!), this A350 (G-XWBA) will carry passengers on short-haul flights between London Heathrow and Madrid twice per day for the purpose of crew familiarisation before it goes into its long-haul operations.

The routes will be rolled out as follows:

  • Dubai from 2nd Sept
  • Toronto from 1st October
  • Tel Aviv in first half of December
  • Bangalore in February 2020

Boarding

After sipping a few glasses of champagne and admiring the A350 cupcake display, we had the privilege of boarding approximately 30 minutes ahead of customers in order to get those empty-cabin shots.

As I boarded the aircraft, I was handed an inaugural flight certificate, signed by Alex himself.

 

Short interview with Alex Cruz (CEO – British Airways)

Of course, I took a selfie with Alex Cruz and seized the opportunity to ask him one of our follow-up questions from last week's press conference at the Saatchi Gallery.

“How much responsibility should the aviation industry assume towards influencing sustainable consumer behaviour (in this case travellers)?”

Alex Cruz: Great responsibility and it has already. The aviation industry is the first to introduce a mechanism to self-measure its emissions and to be able to control them and generate net-zero emissions. I believe we acknowledged this a long time ago, much sooner than other industries and now we are working on this. There are multiple angles with which to approach this. The one we have pursued actively this year is biofuels. We have a partnership with Velocys and Shell and will continue going down that road. I suspect that we will start up other initiatives to do with sustainability over the coming months and years.

We love flying, we think flying is great. We think that flying is always going to be a mode of transport but what we know is that flying over the next 100 years has to change compared to how we have flown in the past 100 years.

Alex left the plane shortly before the rest of the customers boarded, and we were free to carry on speaking to other staff and take pictures around the cabin.

Interview with the Captain

Prior to take-off I had a cheeky look around the new cockpit and spoke to BA Captain Phil Ticehurst. It was interesting to get the pilots perspective, which in this case was very positive.

Capt. Phil Ticehurst: The instrumentation on the new A350 gives us all the information we want, far more than any aircraft I’ve seen before… it is the presentation of information that makes the difference. It feels like the aircraft has been designed for pilots, by pilots.

The ability to move information between the large monitors is supposedly a huge step up and together with Phil’s 9 months of A350 training, I felt like I was in good hands for takeoff.

The Club Suite

I was sat in seat 10F, towards the back of the forward Club cabin. Although this was sadly not a window seat, it was still a good opportunity to try out the direct aisle access and the privacy screen in action.

BA welcomed me with a special BA100 pillow, embroidered headrest covers, a fancy amenity kit from The White Company and guess what… another glass of champagne.

There are several interesting parts about the new Club Suite, here are just some of my top picks:

Storage

There is 40% more storage volume than the current Club World.

Ergonomics

I was able to roll-over and comfortably spread my arms in the lie-flat position. 78cm of elbow width is plenty. (I measured it!)

The tray table beneath the IFE has 5 distinct configurations, plus its stowed position.

Charging

There are 2 USB ports for charging and a 110 Volts AC mains plug which takes UK (3-pin), EU and US (parallel pin) appliances, although there didn’t seem to be much space to fit larger laptop charging adapters.

Gate-to-gate entertainment

After speaking to the lead designer of Club Suite, Peter Cooke, and testing the IFE myself, I can confirm gate-to-gate entertainment works. I was able to play a short movie in the background on the 18.5 inch screen as soon as I found my seat and there were no interruptions as we touched down in Madrid.

So yes, it is truly Gate-to-Gate.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

Every seat comes with BA-branded noise cancelling headphones that use the typical dual-mono jack. Personally, I would opt for my Bose QC 35 any day, however the BA headphones are a nice addition, considering they integrate perfectly with the IFE.

Don’t bother taking them home though, as it is written clearly, that they will not work off the aircraft. I’m sure someone will eventually confirm this one way or another.

Wi-Fi

We were given complimentary Wi-Fi passes to test the internet connection and all-in-all it wasn’t bad.

A speed test revealed download speeds of 4.48 Mbps and uploads of 2.44 Mbps. However, the price point of £ 17.99 for a mere 150Mb of data seems a tad high. Be sure to turn off background refresh for some of those data-hungry apps!

 

Gourmet Food

As we flew a short-haul flight this meant we would eat one meal. The menu had the choice of two mains and as I’m a vegetarian I opted for the ‘homemade' spinach gnocchi – though I'm not sure how authentically ‘homemade' it actually is! (click on the pictures to enlarge the text)

Verdict: Delicious!

Honestly, I think everyone on the flight became aware of my fascination for the gnocchi. In fact I liked it so much that on our return flight I had the same option again!

Another highlight was the gourmet DO & CO chocolate mousse.

Lie-flat Configuration

We hope to fully enjoy and review the lie-flat configuration on a long-haul route in the coming months. I could easily have fallen asleep with the cosy bedding provided by The White Company.

Conclusion

As this was an inaugural flight, many details such as the BA100 pillow, special amenity kit and catering menu probably won’t appear in the same way on future flights.

However, my verdict is clear: I agree with Tim’s first impressions and am wowed by the new A350-1000 and the Club Suite! This is one of the most significant manifestations of their £6.5billion investments and it was a fantastic opportunity for us to review first-hand this comfortable, sleek looking and much improved business class seat.

And finally a thank you to Points to be Made follower and Cabin Service Director Maggie Jennings, her cabin crew and the British Airways PR team who served us very well throughout the flight!

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