In August 2016, I enjoyed a great (but rainy and even snowy) stay in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, one of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas on a scale difficult to imagine. I will publish my trip reports over the coming weeks:
- Review: British Airways A380 Business Class from London to Vancouver (today)
- Review: Fairmont Banff Hot Springs Hotel
- Review: Emerald Lake Lodge
- Review: Post Hotel & Spa
- Review: Moraine Lake Lodge
- Review: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (to be published later)
- Review: Mount Engaldine Lodge
- Review: British Airways B787-8 (Dreamliner) Business Class from Calgary to London
Today (September 21, 2016): Flight Review: British Airways A380 Business Class from London to Vancouver.
On August 30th 2016, I flew Business Class in an Airbus A380 of British Airways (BA) from London Heathrow (LHR) to Vanvouver International Airport (YVR). The world’s largest passenger aircraft entered into service for BA in 2014, and the UK’s national carrier has currently 12 of these massive aircraft in its fleet, deploying them on routes from London Heathrow to Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami (seasonal), Vancouver (seasonal), Singapore and Washington. While I am still impressed by the A380 (and feel kind of honoured every time I can fly in one), I was disappointed in the Business Class service provided by BA: the airline has introduced several service cuts over the past weeks, which do affect the overall experience and will make me think twice flying them again. There was no choice of a starter anymore (only a compulsory and very cheap looking mozzarella salad), food was terrible (fastfood quality), the selection of snacks in the onboard bar was drastically reduced, and several seats were broken. On a positive note, the return flight from Calgary to London in a Dreamliner was a much better experience (you can read my trip report here).
- Trip: LHR-YVR
- Airline: British Airways
- Aircraft type: Airbus A380
- Aircraft ID: G-XLEJ
- Flight Number: BA85
- On time departure: no (6.40 pm; + 1 hour)
- On time arrival: no (7,40 pm; + 1 hour)
- Miles: 4710
- Flight time: 9 hours
- Seat: 56K
- Class: business (D)
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & the slideshow):
- Cost of my ticket
- BA Lounge at London Heathrow’s Terminal 3
- Facts & Figures about BA’s A380
- Business Class Cabin(s)
- Business Class Seat (& what seat to choose)
- Other inflight experiences (crew, bar, lavatory, WiFi, noise)
- My verdict
1. COST OF MY TICKET
The cost of my Business Class ticket was 1305 euro (less than $1500 USD), including taxes, for a multicity trip from Brussels to Vancouver via London, and return from Calgary to Brussels, also via London. I booked the ticket during a BA sale. This is a terrific deal, since that’s less than half the normal price, and in the range of a flexible Economy Class ticket.
As previously explained, I almost never pay a full price for a flight, as I mostly use my hard-earned miles for booking a premium class seat or make the booking during an airline’s promotion. Most of us will completely ignore any Business Class fare as it seems out of reach. However, that’s a wrong assumption. Business tends to slow down during the school holidays and airlines cannot fill their Business Class seats, hence selling them at an impressively discounted price, that – in some cases – matches the price of tickets for the seats in the crammed back of the plane.
2. BRITISH AIRWAYS LOUNGE AT HEATHROW TERMINAL 3
Although British Airways’ main activity at Heathrow takes places at Terminal 5, the airline does have several flights departing from Terminal 3 (destinations: Denver, Cape Town, Phoenix, Miami, Las Vegas and Vancouver), hence why it has a dedicated lounge at this terminal as well.
The lounge is very similar to the British Airways’ flagship Galleries lounge at Terminal 5 (which I reviewed here), albeit it’s a less glamorous version. The passage to the lounge is somewhat unappealing as you have to make your way through a long tunnel, before you enter the reception area where you find the separate entrances to the Spa, the Business Class lounge and the First Class lounge. The Business Class lounge is a long rectangular space, that is divided in four, consecutive rooms: a small seating area, a restaurant, a large seating area with a business center on the side, and another seating area centered around a stylish bar. The lounge features British Airways’ signature contemporary decor that can be found in the airline’s lounges around the world, with stylish design chairs, an oak wooded floor, and an impressive lighting fixture above the bar. A buffet is displayed at the restaurant: when I arrived at the lounge around 4 pm, only poorly looking sandwiches, fruits and soup were available, but things improved after 5 pm, when a larger buffet was offered, including several hot dishes and salads.
Overall, the lounge feels less modern and airy as compared to the excellent British Airways lounge at Terminal 5. That’s explained by the fact that Terminal 3 is an older building, with low ceilings and cramp spaces. In addition, although part of the lounge has large windows on one side with views of the apron and runway, the lounge itself feels quite dark.
From the lounge, it was about a 10 minute walk to the gate. Unfortunately, boarding was delayed by one hour because there was a problem with the aircraft weight and balance software calculator program.
3. FACTS & FIGURES ABOUT BA’S A380
The BA website provides the following information about its A380 fleet:
The Airbus A380 is a double-deck, wide-body, four-engine jet manufactured by Airbus Industrie, the European consortium. It is the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft and the upper deck extends along the entire length of the fuselage. It is also the greenest, with the lowest cost per seat and the lowest emissions per passenger of any large aircraft. Despite having almost 50% more floor space and 60% more headroom than the Boeing 747-400, it is 50% quieter on take off. Roughly 25% of the plane’s overall structure is made from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, a strong and light material.
- Number in fleet: 12
- Passenger capacity: 469 (4 class)
- Lenght: 72.7m (238 feet 8 inches)
- Wingspan: 79.8m (261 feet 10 inches)
- Height: 24.1m (79 feet)
- Engines: 4× Rolls Royce Trent
4. THE BUSINESS CLASS CABIN(S)
BA’s Airbus A380 has a total of 469 seats spread over two decks with four cabins: 14 seats in First, 97 in Club World (Business Class), 55 in World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy), and 303 in World Traveller (Economy).
The 97 Business Class seats on the A380 are spread over 3 cabins: one on the lower deck (between First and Economy Class) and two on the upper deck in the front of the plane (with a galley in between them). The lower cabin contains 44 seats, while the two, more intimate upper deck cabins contain 25 and 28 seats respectively. All 3 Business Class cabins offer a sophisticated and contemporary atmosphere, giving a reassuring sense of wellbeing and comfort. However, none of the Business Class cabins comes close to the intimate and private ambience of the Business Class cabin on the BA Boeing 747 upper deck (read my review here).
The innovative “Ying/Yang” seat plan is unique to British Airways: window and middle seats face backwards, while aisle seats face forwards. Because of this unique concept, you may have to jump over other passenger’s feet to reach the aisle when seated in a backward facing seat. On the lower deck of the Airbus, the cabin has a 2-4-2 layout (similar to what is found on BA’s 747 and 777 fleet). On the smaller upper deck, the cabin has a 2-3-2 layout, so there is more space for fewer passengers.
For a seating plan of BA’s A380, click here.
5. THE BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
A great thing about BA is that is offers a very consistent Business Class product across its wide body fleet. The Club World seats that you find on the A380 are identical to the ones on BA’s B747 and B777. The seat is located within its own cocoon or suite, and has a pitch of 72 inches (182 cm) and a seat cushion width of 20 inches (50 cm). In front of each seat, there’s a foot rest, which need to lowered in order to use it for comfort or for an extension of the flatbed. The angle of maximum seat recline is 180 degrees, and the overall length of seat when fully reclined into a flat bed (and when tilting the separate foot rest) is a 6ft (183cm). It also has a reclined Z-position for relaxing and watching films in a near-recumbent position.
Each seat has its own private entertainment screen, which swings out from one side of the cabin suite. With 12 inches or 20 cm, the screen is considerably larger as compared to that of BA’s older wide body planes. It also tilts up and down, so watching the screen from the near or fully flat-bed position is perfectly possible.
There are retractable privacy dividers between adjoining seats, which can be lowered or raised, depending on the fact whether you are traveling solo or with a companion. The safety screen needs to be lowered during the safety briefing, and in addition, the crew will lower it when they serve you meals and drinks; this can feel very awkward when you are seated next to a stranger because you are directly looking into his/her eyes because of BA’s Ying/Yang layout.
The seat controls, a power port, and the remote control for the entertainment system (which can also be controlled by touching the screen) are located below the screen divider.
How to choose your Business Class A380 Business Class seat? Use this seating plan to help understand the information outlined below.
- The two upper deck cabins feel more intimate as compared to the larger cabin on lower deck (because they contain less seats), so choose an upper deck seat. In addition, the upper deck is higher above the massive Rolls Royce engines and thus quieter.
- For solo travelers: the rear facing, window seats are more private and the ones you want to be seated in. In addition, the seats on the upper deck have a couple of side locker which is very useful for storing personal items.
- For solo travelers: if you cannot secure a window seat, your next best choice is the middle seat in the 2-3-2 upper deck configuration as it has an extra storage compartment, though note you will have to step over the feet of the passengers either side unless you are in the rearmost row (in each cabin).
- The “honeymoon” center seats on the lower deck, where you’re basically seated as close to the person next to you as you would be in economy, are great if you’re traveling with someone you want to be that close to, though it would be downright awkward when you end up next to a stranger in that configuration.
What are the best Business Class seats on BA’s A380?
- Row 53 (upper deck, front cabin): the window seats A & K are the single best seats on the plane since they offer direct aisle access without having to jump over the feet of other passengers. While the window seats on row 15 (lower deck) and row 59 (upper deck) also offer a clear exit route, they are less than desirable (see below).
- The middle seat in the 2-3-2 upper deck configuration on rows 53 and 59 not only has an extra storage compartment, but also offers direct aisle access.
What are the worst Business Class seats on BA’s A380?
- Row 50 (upper deck, front cabin): the windows seats A & K are missing a window.
- Row 50 (upper deck, front cabin): aisle seats B & J are to be avoided at all costs since other flyers tend to bump into these seats when they return from the lavatory.
- Row 59 (upper deck, second cabin): the Club World seats A, B, J & K are aligned with the middle seats of the first row in World Traveller Plus, which means that you are an aisle width and just a cloth curtain away from the baby bassinets against the cabin divider on the other side.
- Row 56 (upper deck, second cabin: the Club World seats F, J & K are located close to the lavatory, which may be bothersome to some flyers.
- Row 15 (lower deck): the Club World seats A, B, J & K are located close to the lavatory, which may be bothersome to some flyers.
Each seat comes with a thin blanket, a comfortable pillow, and an amenity kit. The latter is a drawstring bag (one for men and one for women) that is designed to double up as a shoe or lingerie and underwear bag and includes Elemis products to refresh, revive and rehydrate, created in travel sizes exclusively for BA. Both the men and women’s versions include moisturizer and lip balm, as well as an eyeshade, earplugs, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and a pen for filling out arrivals forms.
Upon boarding, I was offered the choice between a glass of Champagne, water, or orange juice. I choose the latter since drinking alcohol on a plane gives me headaches. Shortly after take-off, I received a refreshing hot towel (although BA’s hot towels have a disappointing texture). I was also served a soft drink (with ice and lemon) and a small bag containing an assortment of cold salted and roasted nuts.
Soon thereafter, lunch was offered, all served on a single tray. BA Business Class food can be a hit and a miss IMHO, and this time the food was bad (probably the worst food I ever had on a plane):
- Starter: as explained above, there was only one starter, a poor looking salad of tomato, mozzarella, avocado, tomato sponge, and basil dressing. The starter was accompanied by a fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette.
- Main course: I had the classic macaroni and cheese with (2 pieces of) cauliflower and (3 pieces of) smoked sun-dried tomatoes (fastfood quail and taste).
- Dessert: I choose the strawberry and mascarpone crémeux torte with strawberry compote, which tasted excellent.
90 minutes prior to landing, I was served afternoon tea. I am not a big fan of BA’s afternoon tea and snacks concept (especially not of the sandwiches served in a plastic container), and it was not different this time. The afternoon tea comprised the following:
- Sandwiches featuring sliced pastrami with American-style mustard, mayonnaise and spinach, North Atlantic prawns with lemon and dill mayonnaise and apollo lettuce, free-range egg with rich seasoned mayonnaise and baby spinach
- A mozzarella and sun-dried tomato savory Danish pastry.
- Sweets: lemon drizzle and chocolate and cassis Opéra cake
On the entertainment front you get a private screen, noise-cancelling headphones (the noise cancelling bit is in the console not the headphone, interestingly), two USB sockets, power, and a video RCA connection for your camcorder, DVD player or camera. The private screen (12 inches or 20 cm) is larger as compared to that of BA’s older planes. It swings out from the side of the private cabin suite. It also tilts up and down, so watching the screen from the near or fully flat-bed position is perfectly possible.
The new Thales in-flight entertainment (available in all classes) is light years ahead of what BA currently offers on other planes, and screen quality has significantly improved. There are tons of movies and box sets to explore, alongside a range of other content, including a much-enhanced flight map and chat sessions with other passengers (so if you fancy striking up a conversation with someone six rows or even a cabin away, now is your chance).
9. OTHER INFLIGHT & GROUND EXPERIENCES
# CREW: Despite the decline in service, this was one of the best BA cabin crews I ever encountered. They were so genuinely friendly that I feel even bad writing this review. I was surprised to learn that this crew only flew to Johannesburg and Vancouver or Miami (depending on the season); I would have thought that BA’s A380 crews flew to all A380 destinations.
# BAR: Contrary to other airliners, BA did not install a fancy bar on their Airbus A380 planes for premium flyers. Why would they when they can pack the plane with paying passengers? Nevertheless, the plane has a walk-up “Club Kitchen” onboard, where Business and First Class fliers can graze between meals. Unfortunately, BA has drastically reduced its selection of snacks in Club Kitchen. During the flight, the walk-up bar only featured retro sweets, Cadbury chocolates, and Kettle chips.
# LAVATORY: the two upper deck Business Class cabins have 2 lavatories in total: one between the 2 cabins, and two in the nose of the plane. The latter are pretty large. All lavatories were kept very clean during the flight.
# INTERNET: unfortunately, WiFi is not offered by BA at the moment. Currently, they are testing it on one of their planes.
# NOISE: The Airbus’ A380 is the quietest widebody jetliner flying today, generating 50 per cent less noise energy on departure than its nearest competitor, as well as three-to-four times less when landing – all while carrying 40 per cent more passengers. Although four huge Rolls Royce engines at full throttle are used to lift the 571,000 kilogram aircraft off the ground, the interior of the plane is eerily quiet. And the full effect of the lack of noise doesn’t really take hold until you are at cruising altitude. Instead of talking loudly to the flight attendant, passengers can whisper. It also makes it much easier to fall asleep.
# VIEWS: we had crispy clear skies during most of the journey and enjoyed some great views, especially over Greenland.
10. MY VERDICT
- Seat : 8/10
- Food: 3/10
- Inflight entertainment : 8/10
- Amenity kit: 7/10
- Service: 8/10
- Cabin atmosphere (upper deck): 8/10
- Overall experience: average: 7/10