TORONTO — Earlier this month, British Airways introduced its brand new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft on one of its two daily flights between London Heathrow and Toronto.
The plane features the carrier’s newest business class product, the Club Suite, which offers aisle access from every seat in a 1-2-1 configuration and private door that fully encloses the suite.
British Airways has ordered 18 of the largest A350 variant, which seats 331 passengers in a three-class configuration. This includes 56 Club Suites, 56 World Traveler Plus seats (premium economy) which are also brand new, and 219 World Traveler seats (economy class).
British Airways took delivery of its first A350-1000 (G-XWBA) in late July, and flew familiarization flights to Madrid throughout the month of August.
Toronto was initially scheduled as the type’s first long haul destination, but those plans were delayed and the type entered long-distance service on the 3,421-mile flight from Heathrow to Dubai. After Toronto, the next planned destinations for the type are Tel Aviv and Bengaluru.
Airways was invited to try out the new Club Suite on the A350-1000, flying the first Toronto-London leg operated by the type on Tuesday, October 1 and a return flight on Thursday, October 3 to test out the daytime Club World experience.
Both flights were served by British Airways’ second A350-1000 (G-XWBB) as the flight is short enough to be served by one aircraft within a 24-hour period.
Flying the A350-1000 in a Club Suite
After encountering some severe turbulence on the quick hop from Boston to Toronto, I entered Terminal 3 at Toronto Pearson to check-in for the British Airways flight.
Terminal 3 is the smaller of the two terminals at Pearson, and it houses WestJet, Air Transat, and every other non-Star Alliance carrier that serves Toronto except Emirates.
After a quick trip through security, we snaked our way through Terminal 3 towards the lounge. In general, both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 were nicer than a typical US airport (higher ceilings and a distinct lack of 80s style carpeting), but not on par with the best of what Europe and Asia have to offer.
The lounge was about 100 feet from the gate, one level above the main departures floor. British Airways used to have a branded lounge in Toronto, but it now has a dedicated lounge operated by Plaza Premium (also used by Cathay Pacific).
The lounge is quite nice, with one side sectioned off for Business Class passengers and the other side reserved for First Class and Gold members of Executive Club (British Airways’ frequent flyer program).
The Business Class side included a buffet with a good selection of hot food and a full bar, while the First Class side had a few snacks and pastries plus a-la-carte dining.
With a meal waiting for me in Club World, I opted out of the a-la-carte menu (which looked pretty good) and grabbed a few pastries and some coffee. The lounge actually had excellent views of the tarmac but it was a rainy evening so practical visibility was limited.
After about an hour in the lounge, it was showtime. The press cadre on this flight was a small group (6 people) and we boarded in advance to take some photos of the cabin.
Because this was the A350’s first flight out of Toronto, there were a few cake pops and rubber airplane toys at the gate area. Naturally, I took one of the airplane toys.
The Club Suite
After boarding, I immediately turned left to take a look at the Club Suite, and I was blown away.
The seats definitely weren’t International First Class, but having just flown the old Club World product on a 777-200 from Boston to Heathrow, this felt like a major leap forward.
The 56 Club suites are organized in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration, spread across two cabins. The forward cabin contains 11 rows (44 seats), while the mini-cabin behind the door and Club World pantry has three rows worth of suites (12 seats).
Each Club Suite comes with a 79-inch flatbed with 27 inches of width and a sliding door enclosing the suite. The doors were kept open for boarding, takeoff, and landing so the flight attendants had to come around to unlatch the door before it could be used.
The seat itself is a Collins Aerospace Super Diamond with black cloth and a distinctive design while the suite contains a mix of wood paneling and hard black plastic.
When seated, there is plenty of legroom. I’m about 5’10 and my feet didn’t reach the little ledge underneath the IFE.
The seat recline is controlled by a touch screen on the side of the seat, and I appreciated the simplicity of the controls (basically just reclining the back and raising and lowering the footrest). There were also pre-sets for takeoff/landing, lounging, and the flatbed.
One big upgrade over the previous generation Club World product is in the storage available in the Suite. There are four main storage areas – an area by your feet that is aptly sized for water bottles or the amenity kit, two storage compartments on the interior armrest (e.g. the one further away from the aisle), and one storage compartment by your head (that is housed in the same area as the in-flight magazine).
The compartment by your head can fit a smaller laptop (up to about 13 inches) while the compartments on the armrest are variably sized. One of the armrest compartments houses the video handset plus a 110V power outlet and a USB charging outlet.
The cool thing about this compartment is that you can plug in your various devices and then close the top of the compartment and rest drinks or devices on top. The other armrest compartment is smaller, but can still fit a phone, Airpods, and a passport (which is what I used it to store).
Seatback entertainment is provided in the form of Panasonic’s top-line eX3 system with an 18-inch video touchscreen. The screen is held in a fixed position throughout the flight, which allows you to access entertainment from gate to gate. There is also a video touch handset in the main armrest compartment that controls the screen.
The IFE movie selection is pretty extensive, with a good mix of new releases and classics. It also had an extensive selection of Bollywood and Indian regional movies, which won some brownie points with me.
The TV show selection, in contrast, was middle of the pack. In general, the best-in-class approach to TV in AVOD systems is to provide full seasons of a show (rather than a couple of episodes).
British Airways had a few full seasons in the system (Game of Thrones and Killing Eve, in particular, come to mind), but mostly followed the pattern of offering a couple of episodes per show.
The audio selection was pretty extensive with music, audiobooks, and podcasts. The games section meanwhile, was pretty much the standard offering on British Airways flights (with games like Bejeweled, Poker, and Tetris).
The big step up in the gaming experience actually came from the handset, which actually felt like I was using a Nintendo Switch. Now British Airways just needs to up its game selection to match.
Video Tours of Seat and IFE
The following video tours provide a quick walkthrough of the seat and a (much longer) walkthrough of the IFE. Apologies for the cabin noise and middling picture quality – I am not a videographer.
World Traveler Plus
The A350-1000 also features British Airways’ newest product in World Traveler Plus (premium economy), with 56 recliner seats in 2-4-2 configuration.
The new seat, manufactured by Recaro, offers 38 inches of pitch and 18.7 inches of width. According to Duncan Robertson, British Airways’ Aircraft Product Development Manager for Cabin Interiors, the main enhancements to the hard product include the addition of water bottle stowage, calf rests, and adjustable headrests.
The A350-1000 also features the 50% larger entertainment screens from Panasonic (12 inches) with swipe control and USB sockets at every seat that have become standard across British Airways World Traveler Plus products on various fleets.
In addition to the enhancements to the seat itself, British Airways has also rolled out several enhancements to the soft product in World Traveler Plus over the past year.
These include the ability to pre-order a meal up to 24 hours before departures, updated menus, new amenity kits made from recycled plastic bottles, and updated bedding
The A350-1000 also features 219 World Traveler (Economy Class) seats in a 3-3-3 configuration.
Each seat comes with 31 inches of seat pitch and 17.6 inches of width.
The seats are also configured with updated seatback screens and USB charging.
The Club Suite In Flight
After touring the cabin, we were ready to get going with the in-flight experience in business class. To kick things off, the flight attendants offered us a choice of water and champagne as a pre-departure beverage.
My seat for the evening was 4K, a window seat on the right side of the plane. After sticking my suitcase into the (very spacious) overhead bin, I settled into the seat.
One of the few elements of the seat that I didn’t enjoy was the seat belt, which had an over the shoulder strap that had to be locked in for takeoff and landing.
As a bigger traveler, I found the strap to be a little tight and pretty constricting when I wanted to look out the window on the ground at Pearson and Heathrow.
We spent about 35 minutes taxiing after pushing back from the gate on time and then took off into the rain.
My biggest initial takeaway was that the A350 was remarkably quiet – even quieter than the 787s that I’ve flown on. Throughout the flight, I could genuinely hear nothing when I had my Bose NCH 700 headphones (on a typical flight I can hear the plane’s noise over the headphones).
It made a real difference to the quality of the cabin experience and there were points where between the fast WiFi and lack of noise I almost forgot that I was on a plane.
The windows were also massive, a real plus for any avgeeks traveling on the plane.
The amenity kit was mostly standard fare with a sleep mask, socks, earplug, dental kit, and some toiletries. There was also a cool stress roller that you could roll on your temples to de-stress in-flight.
The Lavatory was on the smaller side but it was wide enough to allow me to sit comfortably and the toilet was reasonably sized.
I’ve always been a fan of the meals in British Airways’ Club World cabin. On the way out, the main course options were Bison, Cannelloni, or Herb Crusted Chicken while on the return flight the main options were beef, pasta, or Chicken Tikka Masala.
The highlights of both primary meals were the desert – the hazelnut praline rocher was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had on a plane.
That being said, the true highlight for me is always the afternoon tea on the daytime flight back from the UK.
I could subsist entirely on scones, clotted cream, and tea for the rest of my life. The sticky ginger cake was also excellent.
On the outbound, I also did elect to skip breakfast, which offered either a bacon sandwich or scrambled egg and cheddar on a bagel.
One of the design elements that I appreciated in the seat was the placement of the tray table, which was locked in position under the IFE and then rolled down over your lap when unlatched. I found this to be a more comfortable way of accessing the tray table than in a typical business class seat.
While I didn’t get too much sleep in either direction (I spent most of both flights working), I did test out the bed. In terms of spaciousness, the seat was about on par with most reverse herringbone business class products, all of which are a bit tight near the legs for a side sleeper like myself. The key difference was the sliding door which gave the Suite a completely different level of privacy.
The WiFi from air was genuinely fast but I found the 150mb data cap to be frustratingly small, especially because my computer is configured to automatically download a bunch of stuff from Dropbox and similar, so I found that I ate through close to 600 mb per flight without even spending much time actually streaming video (beyond a test).
One point of feedback for British Airways (and all of the airlines) who have these small data caps is that there should be a guide for what kinds of things to shut down to avoid hitting the cap.
According to Duncan Robertson, manager of the aircraft product development team (cabin interiors) at British Airways, the new Club Suite needed to include four key elements.
- All-aisle access
- Gate to gate in-flight entertainment (fixed position on the screen)
- A lot more storage than the current club world seat
- Flexible privacy
In my opinion, the new Club Suite absolutely delivers on those four elements. I’ve never been a believer in the meme that British Airways’ business class product is terrible, but the hard product certainly wasn’t up to the standard of something like Polaris or even an older seat like Cathay Pacific’s Business Class.
With the Club Suite, British Airways has ascended from the middle of the pack to best in class. And according to Robertson, the Club Suite on the A350 will be the baseline for the carrier’s Club World product moving forward.
Every aircraft will be at least at the standard of the A350-1000’s hard product. With only Delta Air Lines and Qatar Airways poised to match British Airways with doors on its business class seats, the new Club Suite positions the carrier firmly in the uppermost echelon of business class products worldwide.