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Recently, I took my first flights since the beginning of March and I finally got home to Los Angeles for a few days. I’ve been putting off a return to LA for months (I’ve cancelled four separate trips) but, eventually, things came to a head and I had no choice but to fly.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are the only airlines currently flying between London (where I’ve been based for most of this year) and Los Angeles, but with British Airways offering the best Business Class fare for the dates that I could travel, the choice of which airline to fly was essentially made for me.
I’ve reviewed BA’s Club World offering a number of times in the recent past so this post isn’t going to focus on the good or bad elements of the Club World cabin and seat (both of my flights were on an older 777 aircraft). Instead, I’ll focus on what the travel experience and the onboard offering were like.
In this post I’ll cover the outbound daytime flight and, for completeness, I’ll follow it up with another post which will take a quick look at the return (overnight) flight back from Los Angeles.
BA Club World In The Time Of Covid-19 (Daytime)
At the time of this trip, all the British Airways lounges at Heathrow were closed (they reopened sometime around the 15th of November when BA realized there was no reason for them to be closed) so I made sure I didn’t get to Heathrow any earlier than I absolutely had to. The First Class Wing was closed and none of the priority security lanes were open, but considering how quiet (relatively speaking) Heathrow T5 was, none of this was a major issue.
I was traveling with hand baggage only and I had checked in before I reached the airport so, after I made sure I had my passport checked by an agent standing outside the First Wing, I headed straight through the mostly empty regular security lanes.
Aside from a couple of WH Smith outlets (a newsagent), a couple of Boots outlets (a drugstore), and a Pret a Manger, just about all shops and outlets at Heathrow T5 were closed…
…but the strangest thing to see was the departures board showing just 25 flights scheduled to take off between 13:14 and the end of the day.
Rather than hang around near the A gates (where most people seemed to be congregating) I got a coffee at Pret and headed to the C gates from where my flight to Los Angeles was due to depart. The entire terminal area that houses the C gates was almost completely deserted (how I wanted it) so I settled down to get some work done.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the passengers on BA269 started to show up and most seemed pretty good at giving everyone else enough personal space (it helped that the airport has been blocking seats to help social distancing).
Boarding started on time and, unsurprisingly (considering how relatively few people were traveling) it didn’t take long for it to be completed.
Shortly after I reached my seat (and had finished taking pictures) a smiling flight attendant handed me a White Company amenity kit and a small ‘personal protection pack’.
The amenity kit was no different from what the airline has been offering for some time…
…but the ‘personal protection pack’ was new and the name seemed rather grand for what its contents revealed – one pack of hand sanitizer gel and an anti-bacterial towel.
Still, the sparse contents didn’t really bother me as I was traveling with a bottle of hand sanitizer and 100 anti-bacterial wipes which I used (liberally) to clean every inch of my seat and the area around it (tip: never rely on an airline to provide anything you consider even remotely important).
The Club World cabin had no more than 15 people in it (although I still somehow managed to end up on a flight with a crying infant in my cabin) but a quick look inside the World Traveller Plus cabin revealed more people than I was expecting – it was at least two thirds full.
Back in the Club World cabin, pre-departure drinks were not offered but, 20 minutes after takeoff, a flight attendant brought me a bottle of water and offered me my choice of drink from the bar (beers, spirits, wines, and champagne were all available) together with a mini pack of pretzels.
The champagne came in an individual bottle (which I quite liked) but was served in a plastic cup (which I liked a lot less).
There were no dining menus on offer (not surprising considering we’re supposed to be minimizing contact with objects other people have handled) but 10 minutes after my drink was served, I was offered the choice of rigatoni pasta or chicken curry. I chose the curry and declined the wine that I was offered to go with it.
Lunch was served on a single tray and was more reminiscent of an Economy Class meal than anything you would expect to be served in a Business Class cabin.
All the different parts of the meal were served in disposable containers, the cutlery was plastic and there wasn’t a glass or porcelain cup in sight.
Presentation aside, the curry actually tasted nice but, essentially, it was just four medium-sized chunks of chicken with some sauce. The sticky rice was ok as was the chocolate mousse dessert, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the “handmade” sticker that came attached to what I think was a bag with a few slices of bread (I didn’t open the bag). Considering that BA’s primary excuse for reducing its Club World offering to the bare bones has been that it’s “minimizing human contact wherever possible”, I’m not sure a “handmade” sticker on a food item does much to further its argument.
Once I had finished the parts of the meal I wanted to eat, the crew were super-quick to clear everything away (which I loved), and then, for the most part, I was left to my own devices. The crew had clearly been given instruction to minimize contact with passengers as much as possible but to give them credit, I was still offered drinks and snacks three or four times in the gap between lunch and the second meal which was served a couple of hours before we landed in Los Angeles.
When the time came for the second ‘meal’ of the flight there was only the choice of two sandwiches – chicken and coleslaw or mozzarella and tomato. I chose the former.
The sandwich came served in a brown paper bag (with a plastic window) together with a bottle of water, a small chocolate bar, two cookies, and a hot beverage.
There was something vaguely familiar about the meal and the way it was presented…and then I remembered what it reminded me of. There was more than a passing resemblance to an Economy Class meal that I purchased on American Airlines when flying between LA and Maui in 2018.
The tea was great (as is usually the case with British Airways), but the sandwich was not very good at all, and I’m not sure I understand why it’s safer to be handed a beverage in a paper cup rather than the porcelain/china cup that you normally see in Club World.
Overall, the second ‘meal’ was definitely one to forget and was quite a distance away from what I think passengers are entitled to expect when buying a Business Class fare.
I think the first thing I need to be very clear about is this: The crew was great. All the flight attendants I interacted with were polite, pleasant, and cheerful, and they were clearly keen to do the best they could with what little British Airways management had given them. I haven’t got a single negative comment to make about any of them and they were a credit to themselves and the airline. They reinforced my belief that one of the main reasons to fly with BA is the crew you get onboard.
The crew aside, however, this was a less than stellar offering from British Airways. Considering the airline has been charging over $4,000 for a roundtrip Business Class fare for most of November (no, I didn’t pay that) I’d expect it to at least make an effort to offer a more appropriate selection of food in the Club World cabin. I’ve seen what other airlines have been offering throughout the pandemic (including a lot of BA’s rivals) and they’re all offering considerably better options than British Airways.
I’ll happily admit to not really caring about the lack of pre-departure drinks, the mediocre/poor food offerings, the lack of proper tableware, or the fact that all the cutlery was plastic because, when it came right down to it, all I really wanted was to get home to LA, to get my work done, to stay healthy, and to get back to my family as soon as possible. But that’s not really the point.
The point is that British Airways is clearly using the pandemic as a cover for service cuts and it’s pushing through the cuts while charging the same high fares that it usually charges outside of pandemic conditions. Personally, I may not care about the onboard offering because my priorities lie elsewhere, but people paying $4,000 for a ticket have the right to expect the airline to make an effort to offer as close to a “normal” service as possible. BA is very obviously not making much of an effort at all.
Even if we assume that there is a good scientific reason why it’s safe to offer drinks in plastic cups and not glassware, why it’s safe to offer meals in tin trays and not on plates, and why it’s safe to offer hot drinks in paper cups but not in china cups, there’s still no excuse for serving low-quality meals. If disposable packaging is the key to keeping people safe, why can’t the airline offer its usual selection of meals in disposable packaging?
There are two groups of people I feel sorry for here. First and foremost I feel sorry for the frontline staff who would clearly love to offer a considerably better service than management allows. Secondly, I feel sorry for anyone splashing out a lot of money on a Club World fare while expecting the airline to make an effort to offer some degree of value. When a meal served in a Business Class cabin reminds me of a buy-on-board meal from American Airlines Economy Class, it’s pretty obvious that there’s something seriously wrong.