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British Airways 269
Los Angeles (LAX) – London (LHR)
Tuesday, November 24
Arrive: 3:15PM (+1 day)
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Seat: 51J (Business Class/Club World)
We boarded through the upper deck jet bridge, where two of the three business class cabins are located. British Airways’ A380 layout is rather scattered, in my opinion, as they have first class on the lower deck, a business class cabin on the lower deck, and then two business class cabins on the upper deck. I wonder what made them decide to spread around the cabins like that (they do have nearly 100 business class seats on the plane, for what it’s worth).
I had assigned us seats 51J & 51K (since I’m oneworld Emerald we could select seats in advance for free — British Airways charges most passengers for advance seat assignments), which are in the second row of the upper deck. This is the same area of the plane where Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, etc., have their first class cabins.
Upon entering we turned left into the fairly intimate business class cabin, which featured just a handful of rows.
British Airways’ business class cabin on the upper deck is in a 2-3-2 configuration, which is fairly spacious compared to the lower deck configuration, which is 2-4-2.
The seats alternate between facing forwards and backwards — all the window and middle seats face backwards, while all the aisle seats face forwards.
I assigned myself seat 51J, which was a forward facing aisle seat in the second row. Having never flown British Airways business class before, the first thing I noticed was that the seat was tight. The seat itself was only a couple of inches wider than what you’d get in economy class.
Most of the seat features were on the console to the side of the seat, including the fold our tray table, the pop-out TV screen, the power adapter, and a small storage compartment which slides out, at the very bottom. That was the only storage in the seat, as storage was otherwise severely lacking.
Closer to the actual seats were the easy-to-use seat controls, as well as the controls for the divider between seats.
Even further behind that were the entertainment controls.
The upper deck window seat on the A380 is possibly the best business class seat in the fleet, as it has side bins for added storage, as there’s otherwise a shortage of storage in these seats.
Each seat has an ottoman which can be “clipped” to the seat in front, as it has to be in the vertical position for takeoff and landing. Then once you’re airborne you can place it down.
I think the below picture really sums up how narrow the seat is (in particular in comparison to the reverse herringbone business class seat American offers on the 777-300ER in the market).
Also waiting at the seat were a packaged pillow and blanket. The blanket was light and scratchy, while the pillow was so flat that it served almost no purpose. British Airways also doesn’t provision any extras, so if the cabin is full you’re out of luck.
There were also some headphones, which were extremely uncomfortable and didn’t seem to have any noise cancelling capabilities.
Once we were settled in the flight attendant came by to offer us pre-departure beverages. By “offer us pre-departure beverages” I mean she held out the tray while literally looking in the other direction, with no “welcome aboard” or smile.
I selected a glass of champagne, while Ford selected a glass of water.
As boarding continued I took the opportunity to change into pajamas (Emirates ones, for those of you wondering). Perhaps the best feature of the upper deck business class cabin are the lavatories. Not only is there a large space with the gorgeous BA logo at the top of the stairs, but there are two huge lavatories.
They’re not quite as big as the Emirates shower suites, but they are quite large, possibly the biggest business class lavatories I’ve seen.
That’s great for being able to change without having to dodge all the “liquids” on the floor.
The lavatories were stocked with Elemis bath products.
Once back at my seat, menus were distributed. This consisted once again of the flight attendant literally holding out the menus without saying a word or breaking a smile. I could tell it would be a long flight.
Next the amenity kits were handed out, which consisted of Elemis “sacks.”
The amenity kit was fairly well stocked, with socks, eyeshades, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen, a few types of cream, etc.
Boarding finished up at around 9:05PM, with a full business class cabin (at least on the upper deck). At this point the flight attendant was tasked with closing the overhead bins, which consisted of her going up to aisle passengers and saying “close that for me, will ya.” I’m not sure if she wasn’t tall enough to close the bin or what but I found that a bit strange, as I thought being able to close bins was a requirement of being cabin crew (and if it’s not, you’d think she could ask her taller male colleague rather than bugging passengers).
Shortly thereafter the same flight attendant came around to take meal orders:
“Yes, I’ll have the beets to start please and…”
“We don’t have that.”
*I pointed to it on the menu*
“Oh, you mean the goat’s cheese.”
“I’m pretty sure they’re beets as well.”
“It says nothing about beets on my sheet.”
Maybe she should look at the menu being offered to passengers then?
Around this time the captain came on the PA to inform us of our flight time of 9hr26min. I don’t know what it is about British Airways pilots, but they consistently strike me as the most competent out there (I suppose that’s reflected in the airline’s safety record), and there’s something about their announcements which always puts me at ease. I also love how darn British they are.
“Despite our late departure, we have a generous block time, and won’t be too far drift from shed-jewel, as I see almost half of you have connections.” And “the senior first officers will be keeping a good eye on me, but I’ll be doing all the driving tonight.” Hah, love it!
We pushed back at around 9:25PM, at which point the customer service director, Andrew, came on the PA to welcome us aboard on behalf of himself and his “team of 22,” and also to remind us that their “primary goal in life is to keep [us] safe.” Around this time the safety video began to play.
From the time we pushed back it was about 10 minutes before we had the engines started and began our taxi to our departure runway. Fortunately once we began our taxi it was only a short five minutes until we were airborne on runway 24L.
I took the window seat for takeoff, which is rear facing. It’s pretty cool to have a direct view of the wing, though there is something which feels a bit strange about sitting backwards on a plane, no matter how often I do it.
The views of the Pacific coastline and never-ending lights of Los Angeles were nice on the climb out, though we quickly made a 180 degree turn, at which point the views were more limited in the dark.
It’s interesting to note that British Airways has “manual” shades in A380 premium cabins, vs. other airlines which have automatic ones, where you just push a button to close them.
After takeoff I lowered the ottoman, which struck me as incredibly janky. It’s only attached to a seat on the back side of it, so it collapses pretty easily. It’s also worth noting that the window seats don’t actually have direct aisle access. If the person in the aisle across from you has their ottoman down (as most passengers do for most of the flight), then you have to climb over them to get out, just as you’d have to do in any other window seat.
As we climbed out the passenger across from me tried to raise the partition between seats (after all, it can be awkward to basically be seated face to face with a stranger). The controls are actually electric, though they’re deactivated until you get to cruise level. The guy didn’t seem to know that, so was trying to make the partition go up. Rather than kindly explaining the situation to him, the flight attendant yelled at him in the most aggressive tone and said “you need to stop and be patient, we aren’t at cruise altitude yet.” It was all about the tone, which I found unacceptable.
Once we reached a higher altitude partitions could finally be raised, so we did that. The partitions are sort of a fogged lucite, so they do add some privacy.
It’s actually pretty convenient to have the partition down if you’re traveling with someone, as you’re basically sitting face to face that way.
However, if you’re not traveling with someone I find the setup extremely awkward, as you’re literally facing them and your faces are maybe two feet apart. So you’ll almost certainly be forced to have at least a brief conversation.
While the partition can be lowered after takeoff, the “catch” is that you can’t really practically be served when it’s raised. Rather than going around where the ottoman is, I found most crew members simply served “over” the partition, which in almost all cases required the partition to be lowered every time the window passenger was being served. It’s a noisy partition, so almost makes more sense to just keep the partition down during the meal.
After takeoff I switched to the aisle seat so Ford could have the more private window seat, and my goodness did that seat feel exposed. You really feel like you’re seated in the aisle, as there’s no real privacy on the aisle side.
Here’s the guy across from me sleeping, which I think highlights just how little privacy there is.
Anyway, about 30 minutes after takeoff the dinner service slowly began, starting with hot towels (the same thin ones you’d get on a US airline).
I folded down my tray table which could either be half folded out for drinks and snacks, or folded over again for the full tray. The TV screen folded out from above there.
I quickly browsed the inflight entertainment selection, which I found somewhat underwhelming.
I eventually decided to watch an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm I had seen before, though switched to the airshow after that.
The dinner menu read as follows:
And the wine/beverage list read as follows:
Service began with a cart being rolled through the aisle with a beverage service.
“A gin & tonic, please.”
Rather than placing the items on my tray (which I had extended), she handed them to me one by one. That almost seemed like more work for her than just placing them down. Being handed stuff rather than having it placed on my tray continued throughout most of the service. I get the need for that for the person in the window seat, though it makes no sense to me if seated in the aisle.
Packaged mixed nuts were served with the drinks.
Next the appetizer and salad were served. The one thing she did place on my tray table was the tray with the appetizer and salad, though she placed it there the wrong way around and with the tablecloth all cluttered.
After placing down the tray she held out a bread basket, which had maybe five types of bread in it. I pointed at one and asked “what’s this one, please?” With an unamused look on her face she said “bread.”
The salad itself was one of the better side salads I’ve had on a plane, especially compared to what you’d get on a US airline.
The salmon was bland, but decent enough.
Ford ended up having the starter with beets and goat’s cheese.
For the main course I had the fillet of sea bream, which just wasn’t very good. It was bland and had way too much sauce, though I guess the sauce may have been necessary given how tasteless the dish was otherwise.
Ford had the beef, which was tough as could be.
For dessert we were offered what basically amounted to mango and chocolate cheesecake, which was super-tasty.
The meal service was done about 2.5 hours into the flight, which seemed rather slow to me for a transatlantic redeye. The food was okay — edible but not better than anything you’d get on a US airline — but the service was what really stood out. The flight attendant working our aisle was just terrible.
After dinner I decided to get some sleep, given that I was exhausted.
The window seat is actually extremely private for sleeping, assuming you raise the partition. The actual sleeping surface is still quite narrow, but at least you have a lot of privacy. It’s one of the most private seats out there, actually.
The aisle seat, on the other hand, has zero privacy. Like, none whatsoever. It must be one of the most “exposed” feeling seats out there. And if the person in the adjacent window seat wants to get up, they have to climb over your feet.
On the plus side I was extremely exhausted and managed to sleep for about five hours, even if it wasn’t especially good sleep. It was more sleep than I had gotten in a couple of days otherwise, so I was quite happy with that. I woke up past Iceland as we were approaching the UK.
I headed to the lavatory to freshen up, and then within a few minutes the breakfast service began. The breakfast menu read as follows:
Breakfast service was done from a cart, and the flight attendant said “orange juice or… I don’t know what that is… it’s kind of funny looking.”
“Yeah I’ll take the smoothie please.”
“Oh, is that what that is?”
I really don’t think she had ever looked at the airline’s menu, and for that matter I’m not sure what was “funny looking” about the smoothie.
The first course consisted of bircher muesli and a selection from the bread basket. While British Airways doesn’t do cappuccinos/lattes in business class, I have to say their filtered coffee was actually quite good.
For the main course Ford had the English breakfast.
As someone who doesn’t really like eating greasy food or meat for breakfast, I thought British Airways’ menu was slightly limited. I wish they had a fruit plate, granola, or porridge/oatmeal option. Instead I ordered the chicken breast, which I didn’t realize was actually a chicken panini. I guess that was meant to be more of the “lunch” option, for those who didn’t feel like having breakfast on a flight which landed after 3PM.
After breakfast the crew handed out immigration and arrivals fast track forms for the UK.
At around 2:15PM GMT the captain came back on the PA to give us updated arrival information, anticipating we would land at around 2:50PM, assuming we weren’t put in a holding pattern. He also mentioned there was a low layer of clouds over London, which didn’t seem to bode well with the whole “not being put in a holding pattern” thing.
The crew did their landing checks, which seemed to be extremely thorough. One thing I found interesting (and have no problem with) is that the crew needed to see the seatbelts every time the seatbelt sign went on, as opposed to them just walking around and muttering “seatbelts.”
We began our descent as usual all the way down to 9,000 feet, at which point we were put in a holding pattern right above the clouds.
Once we dipped below the clouds we had some gorgeous views of central London.
From there it was a further ~10 minutes until we had a smooth touchdown on runway 27R at 3:02PM.
We rolled out almost the entire length of the runway, and then had just a very short taxi to Terminal 5.
We were taxiing towards the C Pier, which is the furthest one from the “central” section of Terminal 5. We taxied past a British Airways 777 and A380, at which point we found ourselves at our stand.
Upon arriving at the gate the captain once again came on the PA to welcome us to London, and reminded us that we had arrived five minutes early.
On the way out I had a look at the “center” seats in business class. On the upper deck of the A380 the configuration is 2-3-2, so there’s only one center seat. On the lower deck, and on the 747 and 777, there are two center seats.
I found the setup of this seat to be ridiculously awkward, as you’re face to face with two people during the entire taxi and takeoff, and if you planned to stay awake during the service, you’d have to keep lowering one of the partitions as well.
It made me realize just how desirable those window seats are in comparison to the rest of the seats.
British Airways business class bottom line
I had low expectations of British Airways business class going in, and was still extremely underwhelmed. The food was okay — edible but not better than what you’d get on any other airline. The service on this particular flight was atrocious, the worst I’ve ever had. But I realize that’s an isolated incident, and doesn’t reflect the airline as a whole.
But my biggest issue is the seat. I find this to be one of the worst fully flat business class hard products out there. The window seats are nice and private, absolutely, but they’re still pretty tight. I do find them acceptable, though. But for most of the fleet, only 25% of seats are window seats. If you’re in an aisle seat you have no privacy. And if you’re in a center seat, you’re literally facing two strangers for much of the flight.
I totally respect that others disagree and swear by this hard product, but it’s not for me. If I can avoid it, this will be my last trip in British Airways business class (well, technically the return flight would be).
It also gave me a newfound respect for British Airways first class, which I’ve long hailed the world’s best business class product. After trying their business class, I’ve realized it’s a huge step up.
If you’ve flown British Airways business class, what was your experience like?