This trip represented a crossroads for me. I would be flying across the Atlantic on a twin-engine widebody aircraft in both sectors. Previously, I have always been lucky enough to fly on either the mighty B747 or her ugly French inferior the A380.
Booked as an A350-1000 on the way out, this would be a new type of traction for me and a B787-8 Dreamliner on the way back would be a winner too.
The Dreamliner theory sadly didn’t last too long and eventually, I would fly back on a B777-300 which is impressive considering the initial equipment change was to a B777-200.
On these flights, I was lucky enough to sample premium economy in both directions, stylized as World Traveler Plus (WTP) on British Airways. On the outbound flight, I was the grateful recipient of an operational upgrade.
On the return, I had booked WTP booked anyway. In this review, I will be able to directly compare the brand new flagship of the fleet with the backbone of the BA long haul fleet.
I do not name individual crew in my reviews; I feel it is a bit too close to the knuckle; however, three crew members stood out for me, one on the outbound flight, two on the inbound. If you’re out there, you know who you are and a huge thank-you from me for being so friendly helpful and finding me a spare safety card.
Flight Number: BA93
From: London Heathrow Airport LHR/EGLL
To: Toronto Ontario YYZ/CYYZ
Ticket Cost: £498.22 (including taxes)
Seat Reservation: £48.50 x 2
Departure Time Planned: 11:40
Departure Time Actual: 11:44
Arrival Time Planned: 14:45
Arrival Time Actual: 14:30
Aircraft: G-XWBA A350-1000
Flight Number: BA98
From: Toronto Ontario YYZ/CYYZ
To: London Heathrow Airport LHR/EGLL
Departure Time Planned: 23:05
Departure Time Actual: 23:20
Arrival Time Planned: 10:10
Arrival Time Actual: 10:09
Aircraft: G-STBB B777-300ER
Booking the Flight
There is no doubt the BA mobile app is powered by black magic. For this reason, I booked this flight online. Also when booking on the website, it is possible to select a seat at the time of booking, on the app no such luxury is offered.
Using the best fare finder, I played with the dates to make the flights work with my budget and what time I had available. I chose to pay for premium economy on the way back, as I wanted to be fairly comfortable and settled in for the night as I flew across the pond.
Three attempts it took to book the flight, as the first two transactions were bounced by the website timing out.
On my third and final attempt before consigning myself to a bargain caravan weekend in Prestatyn, I was adamant it would work, and it did. I was going to Toronto.
“Enjoy Your Upgrade.” Ok, I will. Heathrow T5 has a very strange and long-winded check-in process. Firstly, you have to go to a machine to print your boarding card, then another machine for bag drop and document verification on US and Canada bound flights.
As I was traveling to Heathrow on the train, I noticed my seat allocation on the BA app had moved from 34K to 22K. A quick check of the seat map showed me this seat was in the WTP cabin. Could it be true? Things like this never happen to me. I never get upgrades!
On printing my boarding card, there it was, clear as day, “Enjoy Your Upgrade,” and this fact was pointed out to me by the staff assisting with the baggage drop, too.
The security check was the most chaotic I have ever seen, at Heathrow T5. The staff was shunting people between lines all over the place. It served no practical purpose other than to slow down everyone’s progress.
T5 at Heathrow is a bit of mystery to me. The main concourse of the terminal has an awful layout, with gates and shops throw into the mosh pit that is the A gates. It is very claustrophobic and chaotic.
I was glad to be getting out the way, departing from the C gates, which are remote pier a short transit ride away. This bastion of sanity is welcomed when flying – the simplistic uncluttered design of these piers really is refreshing.
Toronto Airport is on another level for simplicity and cleanliness. I was checked in and through security in less than 15 minutes. Nothing resembling the horror queues I would expect in the US.
The Canadian security agents had a great personality and were excellently efficient in dealing with the public.
The departure lounge of Terminal 3 is enormous. It is a huge terminal shared by Westjet, BA, KLM, Air Transat and most other long haul carriers. There were plenty of places to eat and drink. Though it was late at night, a lot of the shops were closed or winding down for the night.
One quirky feature I noticed was the banks of benches fitted with iPads for customer usage. They could be used to browse the internet, watch films and even order food from the airport eateries.
There can be no denying Toronto is a fantastic and modern airport to fly from. At Heathrow T5, on the other hand, the experience is very much dependant on which gates you will use on your flight.
Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, and it was all I could think of whilst boarding the fight in London, a charge into oblivion.
We were booked to depart from C54, which is on one of the satellite piers at Terminal 5, split into A B and C pier. A hosts the majority of European flights, the B and C gates all long haul traffic.
When I arrived at the allocated gate, there was no sign of life an hour before departure. In fact, the next gate C53 had more life and was showing the BA93 to Toronto Pearson.
The B and C gates are accessed by an underground transit, which is basic but does the job. It does seem overkill to use transit to go a total of 500 yards when you could easily walk it in less time.
The B and C gates are by association much calmer and nicer to fly from than the A gates. At this was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic across Europe, flights were starting to quiet down very quickly, though our flight was to be full.
Usually, boarding a BA flight is a calm, orderly and boringly British affair, but not today. There was no queuing system. Just a throng of people around the gate entrance. The queuing maze was not used on this flight; instead, the agents checked boarding cards once you had managed to fight through the scrum, and that pointed people into the correct line.
It was a very backward and inefficient system. Boarding the aircraft was just as slow, with a long queue in the jetty. It seemed due to a large number of migrant families luggage storage was causing a bit of a headache on board.
Finally, I rounded the last corner and there was Cinderella in all her glory!
As the flight home had no more than 123 souls on board, boarding was leisurely, although late. The inbound crew was slow to hand over the aircraft. However, once boarding started, it was handled with Canadian efficiency and decorum.
The queuing maze was used appropriately and in no time I was on board and seated, ready for our night crossing across the Atlantic. I was again greeted at the door by my name, which is a pleasant touch and somehow, reassuring.
Onboard Experience – The Cabin
British Airways has long had a reputation for an average hard product at best. I can attest in more ways than one. In this case, both flights were pretty similar in terms of service, catering and seat comfort.
Where BA really stands out is usually the onboard crew. I have raved about my experiences with the crew in previous reviews and this may or may not be any different.
The A350 first entered the BA fleet in the third quarter of 2019. The cabin ambiance did feel fresh and modern and the seat had a couple of slightly more innovative features compared to the older product on the B777-300.
The cleaning of both cabins left a little to be desired and the A350 already felt like had been around the block a few times, the 777 cabins was starting to show its age too.
Upon boarding, I was greeted by name on both occasions and pointed directly to my seat. The WTP+ seat is an interesting idea, a hybrid between business class and economy class seating that results in a kind of Franken seat.
The outbound flight was more or less full, with a handful of empty seats in world traveler and a couple of empty seats in WTP+. The A350 seat has been redesigned slightly and is a little different in form and function compared to the seat on other widebody aircraft.
On arriving at my seat, a reasonably comfortable pillow and the blanket were waiting as well as a goody bag, containing an amenity kit and headphones, plus a flying start envelope. The flying start is the charity venture between BA and Comic Relief, what they do is perhaps more of mystery.
The headphones are acceptable at best. They didn’t hurt my ears and the sound quality was ok for watching airplane movies or listening to a BBC podcast. It seems BA uses a non-standard headphone port as my two-pin adapter didn’t seem to fit.
The seat is approximately 19 inches wide and offers 38 inches of legroom, which is reasonably generous. The seat always features a fold-away footstool, a large padded headrest, a DC EU/UK/US plug socket and USB port built-in, as well as a fold-out table and cocktail table.
One quirky feature of the A350 seat is a leg rest built into the seat, making it feel much more like a lazy boy recliner.
There is a large 12 inch personal TV monitor that can be controlled by touchscreen or the remote control built into the seat armrest.
The seat on the A350 is a more modern design, but it is harder and thinner. However, the charging socket was much faster to take my Galaxy S10 back up to 100%. The seat on the 777 was slower to charge my phone, but slightly more plush and well padded.
The 777 airshow was also better I felt; it had the quirky option where it would cycle through all the different modes – no such feature exists on the A350.
The screen on the A350 is crisper and brighter as well, and not fitted with the privacy shield that seems to be a default on the 777, so unless you looking directly at the screen it is filtered.
On the way home, as I had an empty seat next to me, I would usually have the airshow on one seat and my film on the other, but this was simply a waste of time. I couldn’t see the airshow on the seat next to me anyway.
Onboard Experience – Food
Once the cabin had started to settle, the crew passed a tray of drinks, offering orange juice, water or sparkling wine, served in real glassware on the outbound.
As the return flight was much later in the day, in fact just a fraction before midnight, the choice was either water or orange juice, served in plastic cups. That being said, it is still nice to have a refreshing drink before departure.
As we pushed back from the gate in London, it seemed the cabin crew was caught off guard. Usually, the crew are pretty quick to start the safety demo and secure the cabin.
However, on this flight, the manual safety demonstration was not done until we were actually taxing out, and the cabin secure wasn’t achieved until we were practically on the runway.
As our engines started, a part of me was impressed by how quiet it was, a part me was bored – apart from a couple of light coughs, there really was very little noise.
Everyone who has flown or seen a 777 cannot help be amazed at the noise as the mighty GE engines scream into life. It was cold and Canadian wet as we pushed back leaving the lights of Toronto behind.
I knew this city was something special. I was in love. The safety demo on this aircraft was done by video. It is no secret I really do not like Chabuddy D directing the tacky, trashy safety video. In all, I think he is an odious cretin.
The A350 is an exceptionally quiet airplane and you can notice the difference in evolution between the two aircraft. The higher cabin humidity and lower pressure altitude are subtle but I didn’t arrive into Toronto feeling absolutely shattered.
The 777 being more traditional in its design is still comfortable, but after a while, the flight difference caused by the drier air and high-pressure altitude inside the cabin is noticeable.
I have to give credit to the Airbus designers here. The aircraft is so quiet, the noise from the engines is barely audible. That being said, the A350, does seem to have a lot of clunks and clanks in operation, and it can be a little disconcerting sometimes.
Around 30 minutes after leaving London, the drinks service commenced. BA offers a wide selection of alcoholic drinks – wine, beers, spirits, fruit juices, and water – served with a small package of pretzels.
I opted for my usual order of 2 cans of Speedbird 100 pale ale, which I love, and two bottles of white wine to accompany my lunch.
Just a quick look at the menu had me foaming at the mouth in anticipation; if I could have designed it myself, the end result would have been pretty similar.
The starter was to be an apple, grapes, celery, and a blue cheese salad, followed by Pasta in a tomato and pesto sauce and finished with the fiendishly delicious chocolate orange cake and cheese and biscuits.
It has been said many times I am 5’10 mouse and the cheese overload here was simply a dream come true. Oh yeah, and I have been known to make more than my fair share of Terry’s chocolate oranges disappear without a trace, too.
The entire meal was absolutely excellent; all courses tasted fresh and were nicely cooked. The only let down was the breadbasket selection, from which the olive bread I chose had the texture of concrete.
Usually, the service in WTP is done from a trolley, which was true on the outbound flight, as the crew passes through they serve your choice of the main course along with the main meal tray. On the return, as there were only 8 people in the cabin, service was done individually.
The crew took orders and then brought out the meals to order. It was a nice personal touch for the service to be done in such a way rather than the usual trolley service which can sometimes feel a little bit like a production line.
The return flight had a different meal, and I can’t claim to have been overly impressed, because I wasn’t. The starter was a quinoa salad, which I have never liked and harkened the texture as what I would expect if I ate a spoonful of fish tank gravel.
The main course options were as equally uninviting. I don’t eat meat on the bone, I detest fresh salmon and didn’t fancy risotto. I mentioned this to the cabin crew who offered me the Mediterranean pasta from the WT cabin, but somehow I still ended up with the risotto.
When it arrived and was more or less as booked. The starter did have the taste and texture of what I imagine had come from the bed of tropical fish tank and the main looked like something my mother’s horse had snotted up.
It is can be said however that the dessert was delicious and beautifully presented; the marble blueberry cheesecake was excellent, served with piped cream and half a strawberry.
Now, something was missing – a criminal omission! There was no cheese and biscuits. And the mouse was not impressed. However, it seems to be a common theme on eastbound flights, no cheese, and biscuits for the WTP cabin. I mentioned this to one of the crew, who offered to find me rations from economy.
He then went one step further and asked me if I fancied any more cheese that evening, I said yes if, there was anything else going. Three minutes later he returned with a business class cheese tray consisting of a Smoked Cheddar, Brie and Stilton alongside Oat crackers, grapes and a nut and fruit compote.
I was impressed and enjoyed the beautifully presented platter very much.
After the meal service on both flights, tea and coffee were offered. I had a coffee and then sat back to watch the world go by.
This crew passed through at intermittent intervals to offer cold drinks from a tray, and the galley was laid out with a snack basket offering a selection of crisps and chocolates available to take back to your seat.
On the Toronto bound flight, a mid-flight snack was offered, which is simply a magnum ice cream.
On both flights, a hot snack was offered about an hour before landing. On the outbound, this was a fatty, greasy margarita pizza. While tasting good, it looked like a large oil tanker after having an accident on the high seas.
An hour out of London I was offered what I believe to be a chicken, bacon and cheese wrap. Both snacks were served with coffee and water.
Here is where I am somewhat confused. In WT, the snack on a westbound flight is served with a Cadbury chocolate bar, yet in WTP you get the oil tanker of doom. The return flight is of no consequence, as passengers in world traveler just receive a cold snack.
There is no doubt the catering in WTP is a significant improvement over the basic economy catering, but it is not without its questions. I did, however, enjoy my meal on the outbound flight and tolerated the meal coming home. The rest of the service was more or less as it could be expected.
Having seen galaxies form and die in the time it takes to clear passport and customs control in the US, I was expecting a similar situation in Toronto. I was surprised at the red tape involved in what was a very quick system.
Initially, if you have an ETA, you will be directed to an automated machine, which will ask for confirmation of a couple of details and then print out a receipt. This is then checked by a border control officer and that was it.
The entire process took about 20 minutes, including the rather long walk from the airplane to the machines and then to the border control check.
What did confuse me was in the baggage hall. As soon as bags were spat out on the conveyor belt, they were removed by airport staff and left in a huge pile.
A lot of people were becoming concerned as their luggage hadn’t arrived on the belt and the staff was not directing people to sift through the pile of suitcases. I can understand why as well. Most people wouldn’t expect their suitcase to be in an uncontrolled heap. They would expect it on the baggage carousel.
Arriving into London Heathrow was like entering a ghost town, though there is lull around 10 am for long haul arrivals. I was completely shocked at how empty the entire airport was. I was in front of the queue for immigration and my baggage was out by the time I got downstairs in the reclaim hall.
I have no other words to describe Heathrow than rarely eerily quiet.
Without a doubt, this trip was absolutely fantastic. I loved every minute of my time in Canada. How can you not have a good holiday though, when it starts off with an operational upgrade?
Whenever I used T5 at Heathrow, I have mixed feelings, and that was true again on this occasion. While the airport was quieter than I have known it, it just seemed chaotic and messy.
Boarding was an absolute joke. There is no other way around it; however, the A350 was a lovely albeit bland aircraft to fly. The food was absolutely delicious, and the crew was very good overall.
Flying home was everything I love about the 777. The aircraft has personality and lots of it. I enjoyed the flight, though I was disappointed by the rather blank Atlantic sunrise and the food, which was far from inspiring, though the business class cheeseboard more than compensated for the remainder of the mediocre meal.
Toronto Airport is a strange airport to fly into, but a dream to fly out from. I just could not fathom out the bizarre ways and means of baggage management in the hall, and felt having my paperwork checked by three people on arrival was a bit overkill.
Having said that, Toronto is a stunning airport: clean, modern and well equipped for the 21st-century traveler.
The question I find myself asking is whether or not it is worth a paid upgrade to WTP. The answer is clear as mud, because the bigger seat, more legroom, and smaller more intimate cabin are nice.
However, compared to WT, it is nothing overly special. So I have found a happy compromise, on my outbound long haul flights. When I am usually full of excitement and bouncing off the ceiling like a kid drugged up on Haribo, I am happy to slum it.
On the way home, when I need to wind down, reflect and maybe get some shut-eye, then yes, WTP is worth the upgrade. Often when booking flights with BA, it is only a few pounds difference, too, especially on eastbound flights, as was the case here, making it a deal-breaker for me!
All in all, this trip convinced me that I am right to keep my loyalty to BA, as their service is always consistent and sometimes, just that little bit extra special, too.
|Key Area||Outbound Flight Score||Inbound Flight Score||Average|
|Overall||44/60||51/60||Total Score: 54.5/70|