A Tale of Two BAs: Wine Tastings and Ignored Call Bells – Part I



We travelled from London to New York, and from Los Angeles to London, on board British Airways’ Club World business class. The seats were the same, but the flights couldn’t have been more different…

Part One reviews our disappointing flight to New York; Part Two the fantastic journey back from Los Angeles.

Due to our British Airways frequent flyer membership, our journey to New York started in the First Class Wing at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.  Check-in was swift, and we were issued with heavy-card boarding passes before making our way through the private security channel to the First Class lounge (available to us as British Airways Gold and Oneworld Emerald card holders).

Business class travellers would usually have access to Heathrow’s “regular” fast-track and the British Airways Club lounges. However, due to our BA Gold Guest List membership we were lucky enough to enjoy cocktails, a leisurely lunch, and afternoon tea in the Concorde Room prior to our 6pm flight.  Our full review of the Concorde Room can be found here.

Dessert in the British Airways Concorde Room at Heathrow Terminal 5
Seasonal chocolate slice dessert in British Airways’ Concorde Room at Heathrow Terminal 5.

Boarding was from a Terminal 5B gate, connected to the main (5A) terminal by an underground transit train or walkway.  We decided the post-prandial walk along the largely empty tunnel would do us good after the delights of the Concorde Room.

Walkway tunnel at Heathrow Terminal 5
The underground walkway tunnel between Terminals 5A, 5B and 5C at London Heathrow. A transit train is also available.

Boarding was announced on time, and seemed well-organised by group number.  Business class passengers on long-haul BA planes would usually board in Group 2 but we were called into the holding area just prior to the stairs to the jetbridge as part of a new “Group Zero” trial for Gold Guest List passengers.

Our flight – operated by a 13-year old Boeing 777-300ER – was originally scheduled to have the new Club Suite business class. Three days before departure this was changed to an un-refurbished model with the old Club World product.  British Airways doesn’t substitute planes as frequently as some other airlines (ahem, one Middle Eastern carrier in particular), however plane swaps do happen on occasion. We got unlucky; at the time of travel BA had refurbished 13 of its 16 planes of this model and tries to keep the old products off the New York route.

We deliberately booked the new Club Suite for the day flight to New York and old Club World for the night flight back from Los Angeles (see why we made that choice in this overview of British Airways’ business class seats).  The configuration change, however, meant we lost our original Club Suite seating allocation, but we managed to select the last remaining paired Club World seats at the back of the cabin (seats which had so far been held for infants).  As it was the start of our trip, the sight of each other remained pleasant.

Seat map of British Airways' Boeing 777-300ER business class, with our seats highlighted in red
Seats 16E and 16F at the rear of the Club World cabin. Seat map provided by AeroLOPA.com, the best source of British Airways seat maps.

British Airways’ old Club World is sometimes criticised, and I explain why I think that is unfounded here, but – in seats 16E and 16F – there were a lot of positives: we had almost a double bed, with privacy dividers from those around us once in the air (a blessing, I’m sure our fellow passengers would agree). As we were at the rear of the cabin we also benefitted from unimpeded aisle access. 

At our seats with pre-departure champagne. The side privacy screens remained open until after take-off.
Pre-departure champagne, served once all passengers had boarded. Note the side privacy screens had to be open until after take-off.

The White Company bedding was, as usual, great; the kit – in a zipped bag on our seat at boarding – contained the usual plush duvet and generously-padded pillow.  It also contained a thin seat-topper mattress pad.  While I appreciate the addition of the mattress pad, this is rather the let-down of the bedding; I am never convinced this thin pad, in its current form, adds all that much to the experience (unlike in British Airways’ First Class, where the mattress topper is much thicker and better fitted to the seat).

Also at our seat on boarding was a water bottle, sound-cancelling over-ear headphones (average; nowhere close to Bose in quality and certainly in scope for improvement), and The White Company amenity kit in its leather pouch. Often champagne and a menu is provided soon after boarding; this time we had to wait until all passengers had boarded.

Dinner menu showing starters, mains, and cheese or desserts
Dinner menu

Soon after take-off we were offered a hot towel, and the cabin manager introduced herself before quickly rushing off elsewhere.  Unfortunately, this is where the positives for this journey ended.

While the crew were nice enough (read: rather indifferent but not personally unpleasant), the service was a mess: despite smooth flying conditions and the crew being released from their seats almost immediately, it took 90 minutes after take-off for our first drink to arrive.  Our starter followed ten minutes later (100 minutes after departure), and mains after another 20 minutes (120 minutes). It took another 50 minutes for our trays to be cleared.  Requests for more water during the service were forgotten, as well as a request for a cup of peppermint tea when the tray was cleared.

Nuts and a gin and tonic on board our flight.  It took 90 minutes to be served this.
Tanqueray & tonic and Business Class Nut mix, 90 minutes after take-off.

The food itself was good, though sitting at the back our first choice was refused citing “first-come-first-served” ordering.  This was then followed some time later by an apology that the crew had “found some” (presumably eventually acknowledging BA’s service standard of tallying up meal orders in the galley).  In the end we received wonderfully-creamy soup (carrot and ginger) as a starter, paired with BA’s delicious signature warm triple-bread roll.

Our starter: carrot and ginger soup, side salad, and BA's three-in-one warm bread roll
Carrot and ginger soup, garlic and herb croutons. Side salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, olives, feta cheese and chimirchurri, and BA’s delightful signature triple-bread roll.
Dinner setting, showing the closed privacy screens.
Our private setting for dinner. Note the privacy with the side divider screens closed.

We both followed this with the turkey Christmas dinner as our main course.  The turkey was tender, helped by the stuffing and rich gravy, and the potatoes were satisfyingly crispy.

Main course of roast turkey, with an empty water glass.
Roasted breast of British turkey, chestnut stuffing, pigs in blankets, duck fat roast potatoes, Brussels spouts, honey glazed root vegetables, gravy. Note the empty water glass, which remained empty for the whole main and dessert.

The dessert, a chocolate orange mousse, was poor and a misguided choice. It was rather akin to the desserts served on shorthaul services in size, and would have been improved with a darker-chocolate flavour. On this flight it was not possible to have the cheese plate in addition to dessert.

Dessert: chocolate orange mousse with gingerbread crumble
Chocolate orange mousse, gingerbread crumble.

I consider it a privilege to be able to get out of my seat on long flights (too many times blocked in economy class seats), and so prefer to walk to the galley than use the call bell.  However, on this occasion we did call to ask about our forgotten drinks a little while after the meal service.  In true reflection of the quality of the service on this flight, the call bell was completely ignored.  We went to the galley, eventually switching the call bell light off for ourselves.

After collecting our drinks, I decided it best to make up my bed and have a nap; I sleep extremely well in the old Club World seats with luxurious bedding, and — despite intending to test the light second meal — was woken in much confusion by the captain’s 40 minutes to landing announcement.  

While I was sleeping off the excesses of the afternoon, my friend took one for the team by reclining her seat into the relaxed Z-position and explored the reasonable selection of content available on the in-flight entertainment system. Left undisturbed by the barely-visible crew she settled into a Mission Impossible and The Holiday double bill, pausing only to snap a photo of me sporting The White Company sleep mask and — perhaps embarrassingly — a First Class pyjama top from a previous trip. She was too full from earlier to test the second meal or anything from the Club Kitchen, BA’s snack cupboard.

Light meal menu for pre-arrival snack
Light meal menu, prior to landing.

One smooth landing and long taxi later, our on-time arrival into JFK Airport was given a true New York welcome: a 98 minute immigration queue for my friend, while I breezed through Global Entry in the mere single handful of minutes (my smooth entry all in the name of a comparative review, of course). Our priority bags (which did seem to be prioritised; luck?!) arrived in about one-quarter of the time it took my friend to make the same journey.

And then… out into the bitterly-cold New York winter!

A cold New York: ice skating under the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in December 2023
Ice skating under the Rockefeller Christmas tree.

Our flight home from Los Angeles to London was like travelling on a different airline. Part Two is now live.

We travelled in December 2023 and paid for this trip ourselves.


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