Everybody in the club | A short history of British Airways Club World


The journey from the promise of free drinks to the six-foot-seven flat bed Club Suite

There’s something instantly soothing about settling in for a long-haul flight in BA Club World. We’ve enjoyed, repeatedly, Marc Newson’s designs for Qantas, the Upper Class suite on Virgin, and Hella Jongerius’s blue booths for KLM, but British Airway – celebrating its centenary in 2019 – has a matronly quality that is always reassuring. It’s just so … British. We remember a flight back from Los Angeles in the old Club World “cradle seat”, which first appeared on BA in 1996, where the configuration was 2-2 on the top deck. We sat next to, and stayed up all night drinking with, Dr. Biruté Galdikas, the world’s leading authority on orangutans. She is a remarkably brilliant gossip and fabulously entertaining. We’ve had some seriously great overnight flights in Club World, meeting some amazing people – and drinking a lot of champagne while we’ve been doing it.

Today, that old “cradle seat” wouldn’t cut any kind of mustard in J-class and would be more at home in the cabin between Club and Economy. Everyone insists on flat beds. And BA is currently rolling out a new design – the most radical reboot of Club World product in 20 years.

Club World 2000 and 2006

The origins of Club go back to 1977, when the airline launched an Executive Cabin, followed by the first use of the term Club a year later. In 1981, British Airways brought Super Club to its transatlantic routes, offering a much wider seat than previously seen (it was publicized with an advert offering “Free drinks!”). In 1988, they launched Club World as a brand, with a “slumberseat”, engineered with a much deeper recline than the previous product. That “slumberseat” looks more like today’s World Traveller Plus than the contemporary Club cabin.

Club Suite 2019

The first flat beds to appear on BA flights were in the mid 1990s, but only in First. In March 2000, BA became the first airline to offer flat beds in Business class, with a radical new “yin-yang” design, playing Tetris with passenger space, alternating the direction each passenger sat and subsequently, horizontally, slept. In 2006 the product had a refresh with previous designers Tangerine tweaking the seat design, and Tyler Brule’s Winkreative upgrading the rest of the look of the cabin. But competitors have subsequently left BA behind in terms of Business class product.

This year the new Club Suite has appeared in Club World. It ditches the previous 2-4-2 configuration, which left passengers in the centre and window seats clambering over their neighbours to get to the aisle, in favour of a 1-2-1 herringbone arrangement. There are privacy doors on each seat, but the divide between the centre seats can be opened – perfect for couples. The new seat – with a six-foot-seven flat bed – flies for the first time for customers on its new A350 aircraft in September, first on the London to Dubai route, then Toronto, Tel Aviv and Bangalore. We can’t wait to recline and raise a glass to it. C