One of the more positive British Airways developments this year has been the launch of Club Europe business class on domestic flights.
You can argue that this was forced on British Airways as a way of protecting its long-haul revenue. Connecting passengers from First Class or Club World long-haul flights were not impressed to find themselves in a potential middle seat with minimal leg room and needing to pay for food and drink. It only needs one or two £4,000 long-haul tickets every day to disappear to another airline to undermine the entire buy-on-board / reduced leg room economics.
(Not that leg room is any better in Club Europe, of course, unless you are in Row 1. It probably feels more spacious if you are sat at the front with an empty middle seat.)
My key question was ….. could the crew cope with serving a 5-row (probably 17 passenger) Club Europe cabin on the 35 minute flight to Manchester?
The answer is Yes.
My outbound was the 10.10 departure from Terminal 5. This meant that I missed breakfast by 11 minutes.
(As an aside, I also got to try the First Wing for the first time, and it worked well. The only downside is that if you arrive by tube, as I did, you have to walk the full length of Terminal 5 to get to the First Wing area. It is easier when arriving by taxi as you can ask to be dropped at the far end of the terminal.)
The crew handed out hot towels whilst taxiing to save time once airborne. I was offered a choice of a continental meat plate or a cheese and tomato panini.
I took the panini:
The good news is that it was hot and, as cheese and tomato paninis go, tasty. In typical BA fashion, however, they messed up the little things:
the presentation is not great – the fruit, for example, is weirdly positioned in one half of the plate
there is butter on the tray – happily the staff did not insult my intelligence by offering me a bread roll to accompany my panini, although they were available if I wanted one
the UHT milk carton is upside down and had taken quite a battering somehow
…. and when I asked for a coffee, the milk was added by the crew from a carton on the trolley, so what was the UHT milk for?
the coffee cup was freezing cold, which led to an interesting sensation when I tried to drink the hot coffee out of it. It also made the coffee go cold more quickly, which is a shame as the new tall mugs should hold heat better than the old short fat ones.
there was no ‘cleaning towel’ – these seem to have gone for good
The crew was excellent, however, and everything was served, consumed and cleared away in good time before our landing into Manchester.
Whilst I am very sceptical about the idea of offering a panini as a ‘meal’ on, say, the evening flight from Frankfurt to London, as a mid-morning snack it was perfectly acceptable.
I returned on the 15.45. This was an ‘afternoon tea’ service which got me the choice of a cheese ploughman’s lunch or a sandwiches and cake combo. I took the latter:
This was, frankly, poor. The sandwiches are as pathetic as they were before the recent Club Europe catering changes. The scones have been replaced by an odd piece of cake. Yet again, the tray contains a UHT milk carton even though my coffee came with milk in it as I requested it white.
That said, it was 4pm in the afternoon and I wasn’t in need of a major meal. You also need to remember that this is still a major improvement on the (non-existing) meal that a connecting Club World passenger would have received previously.
One issue was that the passenger in 2D (I was in 1D, 1A and 1C were also taken) was served first. I’ve no idea why – he didn’t seem like off-duty crew – but it seemed a little odd to me and presumably also to the other passengers further forward. It wasn’t because he had a special meal ordered because he was given the same two choices as the rest of us. As he was in Row 2 out of five, there was no risk that he wouldn’t have got his first choice either.
Is domestic Club Europe worth it?
One little-regarded side effect of the introduction of domestic Club Europe is that it allows non-status passengers to get British Airways lounge access on domestic Avios redemptions. This wasn’t possible before.
My flight was 7,750 Avios + £25 each way. A EuroTraveller ticket would have been 4,000 Avios + £17.50. A cash ticket in EuroTraveller would have been over £300 as the trip was arranged with just 24 hours notice.
The extra 3,750 Avios and £7.50 gets you (assuming you don’t have BA status):
additional baggage allowance (unlikely to be needed, admittedly, if you are only travelling domestically)
free food and drink on board
empty middle seat
seat at the front
….. which is a pretty good deal in my view.
If you already have status, as I do, it is a marginal call – although, for my outbound flight, there were no Avios EuroTraveller seats available so I had no choice.
As I am Avios-rich, I consider the extra 3,750 points + £7.50 each way a fair price for a seat at the front (1D), empty middle seat (the outbound flight was virtually full so I wouldn’t have had that in EuroTraveller unless I got a Gold seat-block) and the outbound panini, fruit plate and coffee. The meal on the return was less impressive and the flight was emptier, but I would still do it again if I had to take the same flight next week.
I was, overall, impressed by the whole domestic Club Europe experience compared to how things were before on internal UK services.
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