British Airways’ business class — branded “Club World” — has been flying for a long time. It was unveiled back in 1999 as one of the very first fully-flat business class seats. It’s undergone a few updates and refinements in the years since, but the design fundamentals are still the same. I’ve wanted to fly Club World for a long time, because of its unique layout and because of the aviation blogosphere’s mixed opinions on the product. I finally got my chance — on the majestic A380, no less. While there’s no denying that the seat isn’t the best out there, I found plenty to like about my experience.
Read on for the full scoop on my flight in Club World and the future of BA’s business class.
Welcome to the Club
On the A380, Club World can be found on both the upper and lower decks. The upper deck cabin offers a 2-3-2 layout, while the downstairs cabin is 2-4-2 abreast.
There’s no denying that Club World is a high-density layout, and the alternating forward/reverse facing seats mean that you face the person next to you, which can be awkward. The seat’s drawbacks have been written about to death, so I won’t dwell on them here. Maybe because my initial expectations about the seat were so modest, I was pleasantly surprised by a few things once I had settled in. Other than a wobbly armrest, my seat was in good shape — as were the plastic finishes around the cabin.
Because the A380 main deck is wider than that of the 777, it allows for a much wider aisle with the same 2-4-2 configuration. So while individual seats can feel a little cramped, the overall feel of the cabin is airy and open.
While aisle seats like mine are fairly exposed, the rear-facing window seats are significantly more private, at least after the between-seat dividers can be raised after takeoff.
The paired center seats are best suited to traveling twosomes, though I think a window-aisle combo could be just as nice for couples since you can face one another.
Each and every time I fly the A380, I’m blown away by how quiet the ride is. Takeoff was almost anticlimactic without the usual roar of the engines.
Half an hour after takeoff, inflight service began with drinks and cashew nuts. Any airline that proactively hands out water bottles gets bonus points in my book.
BA offers fairly competitive champagne options. While the red and white wines are more basic, I still appreciated the practical advice on food pairings.
The dining menu offered a choice for both starters and the main course
Setting aside the stereotypes about British cuisine (cheap shot, I know), the food tasted great.
The salmon tartare had robust smoky flavor and was accompanied by rich tahini. The salad was just fine, with some crunchy seeds to keep it from being boring. The flight attendant shook the small bottle of vinaigrette after serving the starters — a tiny touch that I appreciated.
My beef entree was cooked a touch too much but otherwise made for a well-balanced dish, with plenty of vegetables and just the right amount of sauce. Cheeses, cheesecake, and some port brought the meal to a tasty close.
The service ended one hour and 45 minutes after takeoff. Taste-wise, it was an above-average business class meal in my book. Although BA loses some points for serving everything on trays, each individual dish was plated well and looked the part of premium cabin dining.
The IFE screen in Club World folds out from the side wall. It isn’t huge but it’s close enough to the seat to make for a good viewing experience. The inflight map was fun to use and there were plenty of good movies — including new releases — to pass the time with.
British has been a wifi holdout, but it will finally install wifi systems across its long haul fleet in the coming years.
Amenities and Lavs
The amenity kits handed out before takeoff were simple drawstring bags, but contained the necessities like moisturizers, a dental kit, socks, and a sleep mask. The lavatory by my seat had nice faux-wood floors and was kept in fairly good shape throughout the flight.
Bedding & Sleep
The Club World seat goes fully flat with the help of an ottoman that folds down from the front. The blanket is a bit thin, but the recently-updated pillows are nice and substantial.
It’s a narrow-looking bed, and if you have an aisle seat you’re pretty exposed. But the real test is sleep quality, and to my surprise what followed was maybe the most restful six hours of sleep I’ve ever gotten on a plane. Seriously. The Club World seat is pretty plush, which kept me nestled in the middle instead of sliding off the sides. To be fair, the seat doesn’t deserve all the credit; the quietness of the A380 cabin was a huge factor. Whatever the cause, the sleep I got on this flight was so good that I had zero jetlag over an eight-hour time change — something that doesn’t happen to me too often.
Second Meal Service
I woke up with a little over an hour to go in the flight. Breakfast orders were being taken and I decided to go with the traditional option of scrambled eggs, sausage, Irish bacon, mushrooms, rösti potatoes, and a grilled tomato. The coffee was a bit lukewarm but tasted fine, and the OJ was high quality. Inflight eggs are hard to do well, but these scrambled eggs were some of the fluffiest and softest I’ve had on a plane.
During descent, the crew handed out passes for expedited lanes at immigration. Before I knew it — after a smooth approach and landing — we were at the gate.
The Final Verdict
Club World has a long and storied history, but it often doesn’t get a lot of love. Once revolutionary as one of the first fully-flat business class products, today the seat is less opulent than what many other airlines offer in business class.
However, all things considered, my experience in Club World on the A380 solidly beat my expectations. Small seat or not, I got a great night’s sleep. And you can get around some of the Club World seat’s limitations — personal space and privacy — by making sure to snag a window seat. Service was cheery and efficient. Inflight dining was competitive — above-average, even — compared with other transatlantic carriers.
There are two other factors that influence how I think about Club World:
- It’s generally priced more affordably than other transatlantic business class products, especially when factoring in discounts with certain Visa cards (at least for now), plus the discounts you can get if you are an AARP member — which anyone can join regardless of age.
- A lot of other airlines’ business class cabins are so spacious and luxurious because they’re replacing first class. However, BA still offers a first class option on many long-haul routes. So since Club World isn’t BA’s most premium cabin, it can afford to be more of a value-centric business class.
Earlier this year, BA announced some major updates to the Club World soft product, including “restaurant-style” (AKA trolley-based) inflight dining plus some major lounge improvements.
Looking further to the future, regardless of improvements to the soft product, there’s only so much longer that the Club World seat design can stay remotely competitive. The eventual successor will probably still be a high-density product as long as BA flies a first class product, but hopefully there are meaningful improvements to privacy and storage.
I’m glad I finally got the chance to check an item off of my personal AvGeek bucket list! Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What have your recent experiences in Club World been like, and what do you think about the upcoming updates? Continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Note: I purchased an economy ticket for this flight. British Airways provided the upgrade for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.