What It’s Like to Fly British Airways Club World from San Diego to London Heathrow
I’ve been a long-time fan of British Airways dating back to the time we lived in London. My family just flew BA between San Diego and London Heathrow in Club World (business class) thanks to a killer sale in the fall. Since I’ve received so many queries regarding how we enjoyed this flight—the favorable euro-dollar exchange rate must be renewing interest in travel to Europe—I thought I’d give you a rundown of how it went.
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British Airways Lounge Access in San Diego
Hallelujiah! The American Airlines Admirals Club renovations at San Diego International Airport are complete. It’s now called the Airspace Lounge. If you are flying in Club World on British Airways, have an American Airlines Admirals Club membership or hold elite oneworld status (Sapphire or Emerald) that allows lounge access, you’ll be treated to a seat in here.
While it is much improved in its own right, British Airways customers have access to a free special menu that includes cheese and charcuterie plates and much better options than the normal American Airlines menu (which you would otherwise have to pay for).
The British Airways menu also includes premium wines like Stag’s Leap. It’s not a bad way to kick off a flight.
On the Plane
Boarding went smoothly. But once onboard, I thought that the plane could use a refresh. However, I recently read that the cabin is only several years old. It is one of the most unique business class seating arrangements that I know of, with seats facing head-to-foot (or face-to-face, if you want to call it that) in most cases. Two seats in the middle row of four face the same direction and are in their own little pod together, riding backward.
These intimate middle seats are excellent for couples and families, but if you are a single traveler, avoid them like the plague as there is very little personal space. A small little divider can be extended a few inches for a tiny bit of extra privacy but not much. My daughter and I were fine sitting here together, with my husband in one of the forward-facing pods adjacent to my daughter.
These two middle pods are split as far as service goes so my daughter and I each had different sets of flight attendants tending to us.
We’re used to the head-to-toe arrangement and I rather like it when it’s just my husband and I flying because it is easy to talk. A divider can be raised and lowered between the seats should you not know your neighbor. The flight attendants will have to lower it to serve you which can grow a little tiresome but isn’t the end of the world.
There are basically eight seats in a row in business class on this Boeing 777 which is one more than American Airlines and four more than Cathay Pacific (though, of course, one must consider how they’re angled and such). I did feel a little squeezed for space, relatively speaking. There is only a very little drawer for storage that will hold a laptop, your amenity kit and a few other odds and ends. So, ladies, you are forced to put your handbags and anything else that won’t fit in the drawer up in the overhead compartment for take-off and landing.
Speaking of the amenity kit, it was what you would expect with lovely Elemis amenities, a pen, toothbrush and toothpaste, eye mask and ear plugs as well as socks (no slippers were provided). The items come in a soft bag. (I still use an Anya Hindmarch amenity kit bag that I received from British Airways first class over 10 years ago.)
Some routes will provide an option for your to pre-order you meals in advance online. I reserved child’s meals for my daughter by calling right after making the reservation, which they delivered to her onboard. She quite enjoyed them but I do think she would have been fine with the adult options now that her palate is more sophisticated. The child meals are two courses (dessert is lumped on to one of them and is usually candy or a pudding of some sort). Adult meals are three courses with a salad and appetizer served together, an entree and a dessert. I didn’t photograph every course because I forgot.
On our departure flight my salmon was, frankly, not edible but my husband enjoyed his beef entree very much. The salads and starters were fantastic, however, on both the departure and return flights. The meals aren’t presented with the same flourish as American Airlines, Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific, nor is the quality the same. But, they’re fine. I’m a hard marker when it comes to airline food because it can be honestly really good. And, it was absolutely fantastic on our British Airways flights in Club Europe between London and Paris (review to come).
One observation is that I think it’s strange bread isn’t handed out with tongs… rather the passengers grab from the basket. I haven’t seen this on any other airline.
In between meals, passengers are invited to visit the galley for good grab-and-go snacks that range from ice cream to tea sandwiches. Stay hydrated by helping yourself to sodas and water (or champagne) here. I made the mistake of not doing this on the way over to London and landed dehydrated and hungry. The second meal was more like a snack with a croissant and fruit, basically, which wasn’t very substantial. On the return, I visited the galley to rehydrate and grab a tasty yogurt parfait so felt pretty good after landing.
The wine on British Airways is always excellent and something I look forward to.
The televisions are touch-screen but quite small and could use an upgrade. I used my own sound-proof headphones but some were provided. Having lived in London, I am a fan of a lot of British televisions shows so caught up on a few of those as well as movies I wanted to see.
I highly recommend that you check entertainment options before departure especially if you have kids in tow to decide if you need to download a few extra movies. There is a dedicated Skyflyer channel for kids with Cartoon Network shows and a variety of kids’ movies so my daughter was fine with only these.
The seats recline fully flat, which is something I’ve always appreciated. But if you’re any taller than me, you won’t be able to fully extend. My 6’6″ husband has trouble on most airlines for this reason. That being said, it’s nice to be flat and the provided blankets and pillows are quite comfortable.
Service on our outgoing flight was patchy but it was fantastic on our return, partially due to a customer service manager who was clearly on the ball.
Kids in Club World did not receive the special amenity packs I’ve seen onboard but we did notice some kids in World Traveller (economy) carrying them.
Baggage Claim Woes
Flying in business class entitles passengers to a priority luggage tag attached to checked baggage. In most cases, this means your luggage is first off the plane and on to the carousel. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this wasn’t the case in either direction on our flight. I waited 30 minutes at the baggage claim for my luggage in San Diego, which was one of the last to hit the belt. The same thing happened to me at Paris Orly airport. This is something that just, frankly, shouldn’t happen.
Connecting at Heathrow Terminal 5
This flight is an excellent gateway to the rest of Europe. If you are flying in Club World, luckily, you’ll be able to use the Fast Track line at Heathrow Terminal 5 for faster security screening. Yes, even if you were screened in your departure country, you will have to do it all over again. Therefore, it is wise to plan for extra time because the lines here can be grueling.
Terminal 5 is beautiful with incredible shopping and dining options, including a gorgeous Fortnum and Mason bar area and store, Harrod’s, Louis Vuitton and much more. It is not a bad place to kill time!
Galleries Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5 South
British Airways has a number of lounges in the new Terminal 5 but we sat in the Galleries Club. Despite 800+ seats, it was hard to find space for three people near an electrical outlet on a Saturday afternoon, but it was fine on the Tuesday afternoon of our arrival. Excellent wines and light meals are served here as well as a variety of deluxe coffee drinks. The decor is contemporary and comfortable with spacious bathrooms, a young kids’ play area and multiple bars. British Airways knows how to do lounges right. There is even an Elemis spa to take advantage of!
The Bottom Line
I still very much like British Airways and our BA flights to Paris (stay tuned) were beyond excellent. The question that I’m getting as a oneworld Alliance member is whether to choose American Airlines or British Airways long haul to Europe from San Diego. I regret that there isn’t necessarily a clear answer for me because they both have strengths and weaknesses. I would say:
- check the type of plane (is it new?)
- consider the price
- consider where the layover is and how long (if applicable)
- weigh how important lie-flat seats are to you (they are not lie-flat on most AA planes)… kids tend to be more with lie flat as am I
… and take it from there. I will definitely fly this route again on British Airways but I’m sure there will be times when a flight on American Airlines makes more sense.
Any thoughts on future or past BA flights? Do share.
Top photo is used courtesy of British Airways