Review: British Airways – London (LHR) to Hong Kong (HKG)


Business class, A380 – October 2013

British Airways A380 Business class review

British Airways A380 inaugural flight to Hong Kong, October 2013

I have a great affection for aviation nerds. Not the ones who stand behind the chicken wire at the peripheries of airports with their flasks of weak lemon drink, binoculars aimed at tailfins considerable distances away. No, I like the ones with a wallet full of frequent flyer cards, who jump through hoops to make sure they’re on board a certain model of airplane on a certain day. The kind who study airline schedules and break out in a sweat when there’s a risk that a particular aircraft, being flown by a particular airline, won’t be carrying whatever the latest J-class seating and AVOD is.

When I flew on the inaugural British Airways A380 flight from London to Hong Kong last week, the nerds were out in force. There was plenty of Instagramming of the big, shiny metal bird at the gate, and one whole family took up much of the front Club World cabin upstairs. They were travelling to Asia purely because Daddy couldn’t resist being the first on board. For BA’s most frequent fliers – who may well have enviously eyed those flagless carriers who were early adopters of the Airbus-A380 – the arrival of this shiny new toy is, justifiably, a big deal.

British Airways has come relatively late to the Airbus A380 party (but not as late as Virgin, who are holding out until at least 2017). So, with the supersized double decker now servicing the ram-jammed routes to Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and with similarly busy Johannesburg up next, have they brought Krug or Lambrini?

Temperley London’s diaphanous printed gowns and Great Gatsby crystal dresses, worn by statuesque Chinese models making their way down the stairs of the plane to an LL Cool J soundtrack, was thrillingly glamorous

First impressions at Heathrow were clouded by some minor chaos: there are three signed filter lanes for upstairs and downstairs on the A380, covering the four available classes, but they are after the gate and over the jet bridge, at the doors of the aircraft. The corralling of Club World, First, World Traveller and World Traveller Plus passengers into their various queues at the gate itself was a tad messy.

On board and upstairs, the aisles in the new Club World cabin seemed a little tight, particularly when scores of passengers were filing their way through to the rear. While the Airbus-A380 is considerably broader than the B747-400, the upstairs Club World cabin on the new plane has a 2-3-2 rather than 2-2 configuration. Downstairs – where things are far broader – there is a 2-4-2 combo, with the middle seats serving as a lovely way for couples to travel, or potentially awkwardness on toast for those travelling solo. There are, of course, privacy screens – but you can’t get over that feeling of being very intimate with a stranger. (That said, I had one of the most fun overnight flights of my life in the old J-class cradle seat from LAX to LHR, getting to know “trimate sister” Dr Biruté Galdikas, the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan. Pod life at 30,000 feet has scuppered the art of conversation somewhat.)

The seats themselves are essentially tweaked Club World – which is still a fantastic product. There are slick cosmetic changes, and an improved, more robust footstool, which converts into an integral part of the flat bed. One passenger passing through to the rear of the cabin passed comment: “They’re like urinals. Giant urinals!” But they aren’t really, and he was probably just miffed as he was heading too many rows back to a seat less fabulous. With their brushed metal and box-fresh finish, they look more Jonathan Ive than Marcel Duchamp. And they all still have that “new airplane smell”.

British Airways A380 Club World review

Temperley London show at Hong Kong airport

There are still those slightly wobbly armrests when the seats are in the take-off and landing upright positions, but as flat beds the British Airways Club World product is perfectly comfortable (of course depending on where you sit, you will still have to climb over someone’s footstool to get to the aisle, or be stepped over). I had a fairly unbroken night’s sleep. Which is rare for me.

The real revolution on the A380 seats is the AVOD system, which is one of the best I’ve ever encountered. Substantial screen size aside, the image quality is razor sharp, and the entertainment selection impressive – although it could be improved even more with increased screen manoeuvrability. On my return journey, the AVOD on the 747 looked like vintage VHS in comparison.

One major difference between the two planes was the cabin acoustics. As everyone who has travelled on the A380 knows, it’s an eerily silent mode of transport. You can hear friends and colleagues banter across the aisle over the marshmallow-soft hum of the engine, along with every pig-being-sawn-in-half bout of snoring. The hush, and the smoothness of the ride overall, is a technological marvel, so – ironically – you’ll need your earplugs for a night flight, for when the baby from the next cabin starts wailing. Another key improvement: with better air circulation than on other planes, I felt noticeably fresher on arrival.

In terms of bells and whistles – or the lack of them – British Airways haven’t installed a bar on their A380. Some will find this a minus. Others will be relieved that there won’t be the usual drunken, barefoot businessmen, teeth blackened from a gallon of Bordeaux, lurking at the rear of the craft. What BA has added are two of the hugest toilets I have ever seen in the air, at the front of the upper cabin.

The dinner service on the inaugural flight was slow – I’d watched the bulk of the laugh-free Alan Partridge movie and four episodes of Girls before the meal service finished. That’s a long service for a night flight. But the crew will become au fait with the logistics of the galley and ironed out teething troubles by the time you read this. The food itself was excellent – a fresh, citrusy lobster and avocado starter, followed by chargrilled fillet of British beef (both proudly labelled “classic dishes”). There were two whites (including a Meursault – the king of oaked whites, and a perfect, strong flavour for high cabin altitudes); two reds (a Bordeaux and a Barossa Shiraz); and three champagnes, of which the Boizel Grand Vintage 2004 was the toasty, buttery stand-out.

Overall, the flight was a pleasure, and I’d certainly take a couple of swerves on my itinerary to make sure I was flying the British Airways A380 Club World product in future.

What was waiting at my destination for me was pretty special too. The night after I arrived, I attended British Airways’ inaugural celebrations in Hong Kong, co-hosted by the Langham Hotel. There was Boizel galore, a “gig on a wing” by Leona Lewis (whose star has surely faded to the point now where she is paid in World Traveller Plus vouchers rather than Club World), a Thomas Heatherwick Routemaster (destination “Hong Kong”), and a fashion show by recherché society favourite Alice Temperley. The location was one of the airport hangars, where the British Airbus-A380 was parked, its staircase festooned with flowers. As Georgia May Jagger (yes, the Rimmel one) rocked up in a Bentley, in a leather and lace dress (Temperley of course), to host a raffle, the whole thing seemed… quite the event. It was Hollywood lavish, right down to the Langham’s trademark tigerlily fragrance perfuming the air hangar. Even to the most jaded attendees, the sight of Temperley London’s diaphanous printed gowns and Great Gatsby crystal dresses, worn by statuesque Chinese models making their way down the stairs of the plane to an LL Cool J soundtrack, was thrillingly glamorous.

As one of the most photogenic co-pilots in the business showed us around the flight deck, another journalist claimed that this was – after her wedding – the second most exciting night of her life. And as we all went downstairs to have a Norman Parkinson moment, taking pictures of each other posing directly in front of the hulking engines, my inner aviation nerd concurred. C