Flight check: British Airways Club World

Cape Town – London Heathrow BACKGROUND: British Airways is the flagship brand – alongside Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling – of the International Airlines Group (IAG), one of the world’s largest aviation companies. A key member of the Oneworld alliance, the carrier also partners with American Airlines to offer a comprehensive trans-Atlantic schedule from London Heathrow. Within Africa, South African aviation company Comair flies the iconic BA ‘speed marque’ to regional destinations including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Mauritius. CHECK-IN: For a fee, British Airways allows you to select your seat weeks ahead of travel, but I opted to wait until online check-in opened 24 hours before departure. The online check-in system is seamless, and allows for inputting the required Advance Passenger Information (API) as well as selecting available seats. Boarding passes can be emailed, collected at the airport, or downloaded on the BA smartphone app. As always, I opted for an aisle seat on the upper-deck of the 747, which has something of a private jet feel. Bag drop at the dedicated Club World desks took just minutes, and I was soon through the quiet immigration halls. LOUNGE & BOARDING: In 2014, BA invested nearly $1.5 million in revamping its lounge at Cape Town International Airport, and it remains a spacious, serene and upmarket space that mirrors the elegance of the Galleries lounges in London. There’s free wi-fi, shower facilities, luggage storage and a stylish wine bar to while away the hours before departure. Club World passengers and top-tier Executive Club members enjoy priority boarding which allowed me to breeze past the queues for the fairly-full flight. THE FLIGHT: The cabin crew welcomed us warmly and were efficient at settling the dozen or so passengers seated on the upper deck, offering drinks and menus, and assisting with hand luggage. Pushback was right on time and we had soon taken off and banked north for London. While BA hasn’t added many bells and whistles to its Club World product of late, it remains a reliably high-quality offering in the skies. The offset layout of the cabin in a 2-2 layout (downstairs is 2-4-2) allows for easy (if not direct) aisle access from every seat. Seats fold to a fully flat 183cm bed, with quality pillows and blankets. The Elemis spa products in the complimentary amenity kit are a nice touch. If there’s a gripe, it’s that the in-flight entertainment needs attention: the screens are showing their age, and the movie selection is limited compared to other premium products. Rather focus on the food and wine, which is excellent. A three-course menu is offered, typically offering both British classics and regional dishes.  Starters on this flight included an antipasto plate of smoked duck, chorizo, artichokes and figs; or a butternut salad with pesto dressing. Beef fillet is a standard offering on BA’s main course menu, but the butternut gnocchi with smoked mozzarella was a delicious lighter choice. The airline has also invested heavily in its wine offering, with London-based Castelnau Wine Agencies in charge of the million-plus bottles enjoyed across Club World each year. On the Cape Town and Johannesburg services both European and South African wines are offered, and I enjoyed a South African Viognier and a delicious red from Domaine des 3 Cellier in France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. I also loved the Club Kitchen concept: in the downstairs galley a small fridge offers crisps, chocolates, fruit and drinks from which premium passengers can help themselves throughout the flight. ARRIVAL: We entered British airspace ahead of schedule, so were kept in the infamous Heathrow stack until landing was allowed at 06h00, putting us on the ground just ahead of scheduled arrival time. Note that all flights from Cape Town now arrive at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, instead of British Airways’ primary terminal 5. There are free inter-terminal buses, but if you have a connecting flight from T5 allow around 90 minutes between connections. VERDICT: British Airways remains one of the flagship long-haul carriers in Africa, and their Club World cabin remains a solid premium class product, complemented by excellent service from the crew. It’ll be interesting to see how the product evolves as BA welcomes new aircraft over the next few years. Richard Holmes CONTACT Web: ba.com