British Airways is now in the game – the top-level business-class game.
The likes of Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Emirates have been playing it for a while.
But, ladies and gents, BA has entered the field of play in true style, with the swish ‘Club Suite’ onboard the swish Airbus A350-1000.
MailOnline Travel Editor Ted Thornhill, pictured, put the brand new BA business class cabin to the test on the inaugural A350 flight from London Heathrow to Madrid
BA is running the plane between London Heathrow and Madrid, two return flights a day, while the crews familiarise themselves with the aircraft
West Bromwich Albion fans will no doubt love the fact that the first BA A350 (pictured at Heathrow before the inaugural flight) carries the registration ‘WBA’
MailOnline Travel heralded the cabin’s arrival – now we can reveal what it’s like to actually fly in it because we were in the posh seats on the inaugural BA A350 flight, from London Heathrow to Madrid on Monday morning (West Bromwich Albion fans will no doubt love the fact that the first A350 carries the registration ‘WBA’).
And the experience was superb.
The excitement onboard before take-off was palpable.
The hand-picked cabin crew were beaming, we had not one but three captains (including Captain Mike Blythe, British Airways Flight Technical and Training Manager for the Airbus A380 and A350) on the flight deck and BA’s CEO, Alex Cruz, turned up to see us off.
Plus, there was a bespoke inaugural flight menu.
Not your average short-haul Madrid hop then.
Ted (5ft 10) stretches out in seat 7K – and finds his feet don’t even reach the footstool. Right, Ted’s view shortly after take-off
And here it is – the all-singing, all-dancing privacy door. Once it’s shut, you’re in a swanky world within a world
Here’s a view of Ted’s seat after dinner – a chicken curry – was served. Note how well-thought-out the suite’s ergonomics are
BA is running the plane on this route, two return flights a day, while the crews familiarise themselves with the aircraft before it begins long-haul duties to Dubai on September 2, Toronto on October 1, Tel Aviv in December and Bangalore in February.
The economy and premium economy cabins have been imported from BA’s other twin-aisle aircraft so nothing new to report there.
But the business class cabin is brand new and, for BA, a revolution.
The first most obvious improvement is the configuration – out goes the yin and yang-style layout, criticised by some because it forces passengers to face each other and, if you’re in the middle, clamber over each other.
In comes all-aisle access, with 56 seats laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The privacy door is another eye-opening change. It turns the suite into your own swanky world within a swanky world. And brings the spec of the cabin into line with the very best business class products.
Delving further, we discover that the ergonomics are very good indeed.
Ted’s travel essentials – bubbles, a White Company amenity kit and headphones
Dinner service, ready for its close-up: Burrata, yellow chicken curry and chocolate mousse. Plus bread
The storage revolution. These three compartments are all handily placed, with one containing useful ports and a controller for the entertainment screen. The far-right magazine holder harbours a vanity mirror
Here is where passengers can rest an elbow and adjust their seat, courtesy of a touch-screen or, should they fancy a change of pace technology-wise, physical buttons
The seats throughout the plane were embellished with special inaugural flight head-rest covers (left). The passengers even got a certificate (right)
We were in a window seat – 7K – and noted approvingly that the angle is perfect.
So, the entertainment screen is straight ahead, but one only needs a slight turn of the head to gaze at the view. No head craning necessary.
An adjustable armrest to the left sits at just the right height, as does the one on the right that’s carved into the suite wall.
And there’s a useful little pivoting reading light just by the right shoulder.
Manoeuvring the seat is achieved by pressing symbols on a little touch screen to the right or by using physical buttons just to the left of that.
The A350 storage revolution continues (left). The vanity mirror (right) means you can make sure you’re looking your best for that smug business class selfie
There are three storage units on the suite’s shelf to the right and – again – all can be opened without fear of muscle strain.
These compartments, plus a foot-level cubby hole, give BA a little mini-headline boast – a 40 per cent increase in storage.
They are useful, but how useful will depend on much you want to store.
The far left one contains a controller for the entertainment screen and various ports, including PC/USB power and the headphone socket, with just the right amount of room left between the closed lid and the surface for leads to run out.
It’s also big enough to store a few bits and pieces, such as purses, passports and books.
The compartment next to it is quite shallow, but big enough for small items, while the third compartment is a magazine pocket that opens to reveal a vanity mirror, presumably so you can practice looking smug for those business class selfies.
The seat, meanwhile, is a beauty. Comfy, with excellent support and easily manoeuvrable. And those buttons mentioned earlier are totally idiot-proof.
One gets the seat gradually into the take-off and landing position, another puts it bit by bit into lie-flat mode.
The angle of the seat can also be adjusted incrementally using arrow buttons.
The look of the suite, according to Peter Cooke, who was part of the design team, is ‘understated and elegant, with a high-quality automotive feel’
In lie-flat mode it’s a whopping 6ft 6in in length. This writer’s feet didn’t even reach the footstool at the end in sitting-up mode.
The look of the suite, according to Peter Cooke, who was part of the design team, is ‘understated and elegant, with a high-quality automotive feel’ – and it would be hard to disagree with that summary.
Behind the seat is a dark material made from a mixture of fibre and wool that has a felt-type appearance. This helps to give the suite a more ‘furniture’ look and also has sound deadening qualities, as a bonus.
The seat is charcoal, a hue that, it’s pointed out, should still look good in ten years.
Mr Cooke said: ‘We try not to be too stylised as styles can go out of fashion very quickly.’
The designers have incorporated some nice extra touches to the suite – stitching on the armrest cap, a homely wood-effect veneer on the suite wall (real wood being a slight fire hazard, of course) and some chrome-effect flourishes, just a soupcon of bling.
All rather fetching.
But it’s the entertainment screen that will get the most attention from passengers, not the interior design. So how does it measure up?
Very well indeed. It’s 18.5 inches, which is pretty sizeable, has an instantly responsive touch-screen and a user interface even the most befuddled technophobes could operate.
The designers have incorporated some nice extra touches to the suite – stitching on the armrest cap, a homely wood-effect veneer on the suite wall (real wood being a slight fire hazard, of course) and some chrome-effect flourishes, just a soupcon of bling
The hype began at T5, zone H (left). WBA after arriving in Madrid on Monday (right)
How the A350 Club Suite business class compares to the current Club World
Club Suite (A350)
Bed length – 79in
Bed width – 21in
Seat pitch – 44in
Stowage compartments – five
IFE screen size – 18.5in
Gate-to-gate entertainment – yes
Layout – 1-2-1
All-aisle access – yes
Bed length – 72in
Bed width – 20.5in
Seat pitch – 72in
Stowage compartments – one
IFE screen size – min 12in
Gate-to-gate entertainment – no
Layout – 2-4-2
All-aisle access – no
The journey was over in a veritable flash. And I stepped off the plane remarking how I felt as fresh as the proverbial daisy.
Obviously flying business had helped, but so had the A350’s clever anti-jet-lag tech, such as cabin pressure that’s kept to 6,000ft, and lighting that complements the outside light.
Looking back, it was difficult to find fault with the Club Suite, which is a bespoke version of the SuperDiamond seat, made by Collins Aerospace (American Airlines customers will recognise it).
It’s stylish, comfortable and spacious with a top-end screen – and so very likely to win new fans and bring back old disgruntled ones.
Frequent business class travellers may proclaim the fairly shallow storage compartments a niggle and, it’s crucial to point out, that we didn’t put the suite to the ultimate test – on a long-haul flight. But is, surely, a game-changer for British Airways.