BACKGROUND: The only airline to fly straight to London from Cape Town all year around, British Airways offers 65 direct flights per week from Johannesburg to Heathrow and Gatwick airports, taking around nine hours and 10 minutes on its Airbus A380. The only drawback for South African passport holders wanting to fly British Airways via London onto a European destination, is that you have to set aside at least 21 working days beforehand to acquire a transit visa at an additional cost of R1,050 ($75).
CHECK-IN: Since I’d already checked in online, this went smoother than the Crème de Cassis in BA’s Kir Royale signature drink. I dropped off my suitcase weighing 20 kilograms, well under the permitted two check-in bags with a combined weight of 64 kilograms that Club World allows, and ambled off to the British Airways Galleries Club Lounge at O.R. Tambo International Airport where I found free wi-fi, comfy chairs, magazines, palatable snacks – I’m a fussy ‘no-to-GMO’ eater – and a decent double espresso. White orchids added to the sense of hushed tranquillity.
BOARDING: No queues for Club and First World passengers made boarding a breeze and once in my seat, I was offered (and accepted) a glass of crisp Champagne de Castenau Brut Reserve NV with hints of dried pear.
THE SEAT: I had chosen 17B, the aisle seat closest to the bathroom, the better to keep an eye on any queue. I found generous overhead storage in the airy high-ceilinged cabin, a slide-out table, fold-out TV screen and a small storage drawer below to stash specs and shoes.
THE FLIGHT: Once we were airborne, I raised the privacy screen between me and my snoring co-passenger, settled back in my comfy adjustable seat that folds down to a 183 centimetre flat bed with a footrest, and found a perfect ‘cradle’ pitch for enjoying the new movie releases. The Dinner, starring Richard Gere, was so-so, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film adaption of Stephen Fry’s Hippopotamus. BA has jumped into bed with the White Company but continue to uses the Elemis amenity bags on the Johannesburg-London route for now. Mine contained a toothbrush, eye mask, lip salve, moisturiser, earplugs and sleeper socks. The drawstring bag always comes in useful for stashing shoes. Scanning the menu, I skipped the Parma ham with marinated artichokes and opted for a starter of feta cheese, roasted beetroot and butternut with balsamic dressing, a salad, and the grilled beef fillet with coriander jus, celeriac mash, French beans, carrots, peppers and red onion, as a main. A Simonsberg cheddar and Fairview Brie cheese followed the Mississippi mud pie dessert, while other mains included hake fillet, pasta, or chicken. Two glasses of Las Olas Malbec/Bonarda Reserve 2014 from Argentina, a rich red with notes of cherries, fruitcake, and cinnamon toast, rounded off this delicious repast served on white tablecloths with china crockery and full-size cutlery. Lolling comfortably with everything I needed within reach felt rather like chilling in my own bedroom, stuffing my face, and watching movies with nary a care – my favourite way of spending time. Chirpy, friendly service was first rate and when the time came for a little shut-eye, I snuggled under my quilted blanket, stretched out luxuriously and slept through the night until the smells of breakfast – fruit, muesli, omelette with sausage, bacon, and coffee – awoke me.
LANDING: Arrival at Heathrow Airport went smoothly, notwithstanding a slight delay waiting for a parking place, and I whiled away two hours in the South Galleries lounge in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 surfing the net and looking at the planes from the enormous glass windows before catching a connecting flight to Copenhagen.
VERDICT: Full marks to British Airways Club World for seating, bedding, food, drink, on-board entertainment and service.