Is flying business class all pinstripes, image and ego rather than real benefits? It’s time to take a peek behind the curtain and find out.
Certainly most of us who regularly sit somewhat further back have had occasion to glance enviously ahead at the business class cabin before the dividing curtain is drawn and wondered what it’s like; whether the beds, meals and pampering are worth the extra money and if you really can sleep on an aircraft seat even if it does fold flat?
British Airways Club World cabin, or Club as the regulars tend to refer to it, is where the flat bed in business class was pioneered and seems a good test case not only for that reason, but because you can also get a Club seat to 157 international destinations – which is rather useful if you’re a jet-setting executive.
The first (pleasant) surprise is that a Club ticket gets you more than just a comfy seat and a better quality of champers in the air; it is also a passport to some rather nice benefits on the ground. Not least of these is that at many airports British Airways has dedicated Club counters, which saves time spent in queues if you haven’t already checked in online – and time is, after all, money. At Heathrow’s Terminal 5 that magic Club boarding pass also does an open sesame on the Fast Track Arrivals and Departures, dedicated speed thru channels for premium passengers; a sort of legalised queue jumping than can save huge amounts of time.
It’ll also get you into the Galleries Lounges, where you can connect up your laptop and catch up on a few last minute e-mails, or if you’d prefer, just take it easy with a drink or two and a snack. Of course if you’ve just rushed to the airport from the office a quick power shower and shave or even spa treatment should freshen you up before the flight.
On board, the cabin behind the curtain seems a little like a lounge, an impression that is reinforced by the seats which face both back and front and the black-and-white framed photographs of old aircraft on the walls. Opaque electronic screens between each seat allow you to either enjoy some privacy or chat to a colleague or travelling companion next to you.
The award-winning seats look like large armchairs, comfortable enough, but not yet showing their potential. What is amazing is how many Club passengers push the button that transforms their seat into a fully flat six foot bed soon after the seatbelt light goes out, eschewing the in-flight entertainment, drinks, snacks and dinner – but perhaps for them the point of business class travel is having time to sleep.
At the time British Airways launched the seat that would revolutionise expectations of business class travel, it consulted with former NASA scientist and other sleep experts who agreed that the only way to achieve a good night’s sleep was lying down flat. Since then the Club seat has been improved. New cushioning technology, similar to that used in premium mattresses now provides more ergonomic support making the original seat more comfortable.
Of course while the opportunity to get some shuteye is a real benefit of business class travel, some passengers do like a tipple, something to eat and possibly also to take in a movie before getting their heads down. Like the seats, the menus in Club have recently been upgraded and there is a choice of starters and main courses, including vegetarian and Well Being options; the latter being meals British Airways’ experts recommend to help counter the effects of longhaul travel. The service style is akin to that of a good restaurant, ditching the catering trolley in favour of somewhat more personal service.
You’re also invited to Raid the Larder and help yourself to an assortment of snacks and drinks left out in the galley at any time during the flight. Apparently it’s an innovation about which some passengers were initially somewhat reticent, not sure if they really could help themselves to snacks and chocolates without asking. Most now seem to have got over the ingrained fear of being caught with their hands in the cookie jar and previously untouched larders now often need replenished.
There are of course other benefits to business class travel, from the power connections for laptops and phones built into the video remote to the flexibility of tickets and preferred waitlisting, but the ones that appear to count most are route network, speed through the airport, services such as lounge shower and valet facilities and the big one – sleep. Certainly these come at a price, but if British Airways’ results are anything to go by, it’s one that increasing numbers of business travellers consider well worth the investment.