Flight 5 of 14 – Shiny new toys!

  • British Airways BA0456
  • London Heathrow to Madrid
  • Airbus A350 G-XWBA
  • Thursday 8th August 2019

It’s a very special morning as I catch the 0417 423 bus from my hotel on Bath Road down to Terminal 5. I’ve got my shorts on (at 4am!) as I’m off to Madrid today and it’s expected to be 35 degrees down there! Arrival at T5 is bang on time at 0429, very early but the bus is full and standing with both staff working at Heathrow and people flying away to other destinations!

A warm welcome to Terminal 5 at half 4 in the morning!

Today I am travelling on British Airways’ brand new Airbus A350 down to Madrid, in the new Club suite. I mentioned previously that it’s not really cost effective to travel in business class on short haul routes… well there are a few exceptions.

With most network airlines like BA you’ll find some long haul aircraft do get used on some flights within the short haul network. These usually offer much greater comfort and of course there is a much greater difference between the economy and business class product. You should be able to travel in a long haul business seat which these days usually entails a seat which folds down to become a flat bed, certainly a game changer when it comes to travelling on a long flight!

British Airways was one of the first to introduce a flat bed in business class, with their Club World sleeper seat. These are found on most of the long haul fleet of 747, 777 and A380 aircraft. The only drawback being that in a (rear facing!) window seat you have to climb over the legs of the person next to you to get out – such a hardship to those of us not used to anything like luxury!

The “old” style Club World cabin

BA have fallen behind the times somewhat as other airlines have improved their products. Over the last few years a new seat has been in development and the new Airbus A350 fleet are the first to be delivered with it installed. Of course it’s caused a stir in the UK with travel geeks and bloggers falling over themselves to try it whilst the aircraft is used on short haul flights to Madrid in the first few weeks of operation!

BA’s shiny new A350 at gate C66 at Heathrow

The new Club World cabin features 56 new Club suites in a 1-2-1 configuration offer direct aisle access for all passengers. Also there’s none of the awkward having to look at the passenger sat opposite you. A huge step forward and makes business class competitive again, in my opinion! It is interesting to note that the A350’s have not got a First cabin at all.

The new Club suite features a heavily customised product based on an existing seat as used by other airlines including BA’s Oneworld partner Cathay Pacific. It even has a door on the outside of the seat that you can close, giving an amazing amount of privacy!

As soon as you get onboard the A350 you’re immediately met with such an airy and open feeling cabin. Of course there was, as usual, a warm welcome onboard – but this time from a very excited crew. It’s great to see them so enthusiastic about a product they can be proud of, and rightly so.

The A350’s brand new Club World cabin

The service was, I thought, fairly slow to get going given the short flight however that’s what these training flights are all about. Gives opportunity to see what doesn’t work and solve the issues they have. There was lots of hand running individual trays from the front galley and meant it took just under an hour from departure until I had my breakfast. Not that it was an issue for me having had a few bites to eat in the Galleries lounge before boarding.

They did start serving meals from the front and rear of the Club cabins and it seems nearly everyone must have got their first choice of meal too. I think it will speed up as crews get used to the way things work on the new aircraft, plus on long haul services it usually isn’t as rushed anyway. Flight time today was just under two hours.

I took the opportunity to try out the seat in bed mode too, and it did seem to me to feel more ‘hemmed in’ than the old Club seat but that could just be me. Not too sure whether the new ‘shoulder strap’ seatbelt – it clips onto the usual lap belt – would be uncomfortable if you laid on it too? It does have a leather cover on it so maybe it wouldn’t be an issue.

The new Club suite seat in bed mode

I must admit I haven’t tried many other business offerings and I am sure there are rivals out there, such as Virgin, Qatar and Emirates however for a previously poor offering BA have very much upped their game here and I hope it brings them success. As I mentioned earlier none of the A350s on order will feature a First Class cabin and I think this new Club World suite will probably suffice for 90% of their markets. It’s due to be retrofitted to the 777 fleet going forwards too, so if they’re wanting to keep First something special then it’s going to have to go pretty far to beat this! I’d highly recommend trying it out, and the A350s are running to Madrid until the end of August. After that the first few routes to be converted to A350 operation are Toronto, Dubai and Bangalore.

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