Something that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned on this blog before is that I’m a little bit of an airport geek. Arriving at the airport and enjoying the first and business class facilities is for me is all part of the fun of going on holiday. A glass of champagne in the lounge with a few bites from the buffet or a la carte menu has become something of a tradition for Mr S and I. So when I was invited by British Airways to explore their new premium facilities at Heathrow and Gatwick Airport, the airport geek inside me did a happy little dance!
One thing regular readers will know is that Mr S and I are brand loyal to British Airways and as executive club members we collect Avios points which we put towards paying for our flights. I’ve written about the airline before when we flew First Class on our honeymoon, the emotional journey when I lost my wedding ring on a flight and the time that my luggage was delayed for several days. So as a customer myself and a frequent flyer I was even more excited to find out what was new with my favourite airline. Even more excitingly, we’d be taking a very special flight, taking off from Gatwick and landing in Heathrow – that’s right, flying between two of London’s main airports…
Honestly, when I was told this is what we’d be doing, I wasn’t quite sure how they would pull it off…a mean flying from London to London surely that would only take ten minutes? Either way, it seemed like a rock star thing to do and I was curious to see what would happen…are you ready to come along for the ride?
I arrived at the new British Airways section at Gatwick South Terminal. Here there are dedicated check ins at Gatwick Airport for Club World (British Airways Business Class) and First, so checking in is a breeze with very little or no queuing. As soon as I got my boarding pass it was straight up to security.
The Premium Gatwick security means that once again there’s very little queuing and waiting time so you’re through in a matter of minutes…
Straight into the British Airways lounge for a glass of champagne. So from arrival at the airport it can be as little as fifteen minutes before you’re toasting your journey with a cold glass of bubbly.
At the beginning of 2017 all British Airways operations moved from North Terminal to Gatwick South Terminal and the business and first class lounges are brand new too.
Having already been in the new Business class lounge earlier in the year, I knew what to expect from the stylish new space. There is 40 per cent more floor space here meaning a vast amount of area for resting, recharging or getting that final bit of work done before a flight. With their customers in mind British Airways have commissioned furniture from UK manufacturers Boss with Osbourne & Little fabrics and Scottish leather. Bespoke lighting has been created by designer Tom Dixon and Elstead lighting – ok it’s still an airport lounge but it’s attractive and comfortable.
Seating in the First Class lounge is even more comfortable and plush with high back chairs and cushions for maximum support. It’s practical too and most seats in both lounges have UK and EU sockets, and USB ports. They’ve upgraded the wifi as well, which I think for many is the most vital part of the airport lounge experience.
Plus there’s a separate work space area with PCs and printers and a Kidzone for young travellers. The space has been divided perfectly into different zones for working, eating or just relaxing.
And fellow airport geeks can stop and admire the sweeping views of the runway and the aircraft outside.
As we were there first thing in the morning both lounges were set up for breakfast and in the business lounge there were plenty of hot choices such as bacon rolls, pastries and porridge as well as cold fruits, cheeses and meats.
There’s a full bar of spirits, champagne, wine, beers and soft drinks as well as tea and coffee in the business lounge.
The First lounge serves everything above plus a few more premium food choices and pouring champagne. Here there’s also the option of table service and an à la carte menu that changes with the seasons.
We were fortunate enough to try the food on the menu in the First Class lounge including fish and chips.
The famous BA burger.
And gnocchi with artichoke. It may still be airport lounge food but the attention to detail is evident, the burger is cooked rare for example and the fish has the perfect crisp. These lounge improvements aren’t limited to London and there’s a programme for investment globally with new lounges or planned expansion in Aberdeen, Rome, Geneva, San Francisco, Miami and more. Nibbling on some of the food I chatted to the other journalists and bloggers and after a few words from Alex Cruz, British Airways’ chairman and CEO, it was time to board our flight.
Definitely something I’ll never see again!
We all settled down in our business class seat and, as is standard for British Airways, you’re offered a choice of orange juice, water or champagne!
Now though we were flying from Gatwick to Heathrow, the flight would of course be longer than ten minutes! They were taking us north across the UK, flying over Scotland before looping back to London, a three hour trip that would allow plenty of time to fully experience the onboard service.
Soon it was up, up and away and all there was for me to do was enjoy the spacious comfort of my seat. Throughout the flight we heard more from Alex Cruz about the planned investments for business class and first and plans to differentiate British Airways with unique onboard experience and service. £400 million investment in Club World (long-haul business class) means even more changes such as plans for a new seat with direct aisle access in 2019. There are changes with Club Europe too (business short-haul) including a business cabin for domestic flights.
One thing myself and fellow passengers were keen to know more about was onboard Wi-Fi. And there was good news on that front, from April all cabins on long haul flights will start to benefit from the latest generation of Wi-Fi with short haul commencing later in the year. British Airways will be the first airline to use 4G high speed internet on 90% of the fleet by 2019. Passengers can browse on their own devices and also stream video content from NetFlix and YouTube – all of which is a dream come true for social media addicts like myself. Simply Connect will give basic browsing ability for £4.99 while Connect Plus provides a faster connection for £7.99.
Now something I was particularly curious about: the food!! We all know the bad rep that inflight food gets and honestly, I’ve even found food in First Class inedible so I was interested to try the catering improvements promised by Alex Cruz for myself. Plans are to introduce premium dining service to Club World with display trolleys allowing customers to pick their dishes and more refined and elegant table settings.
But most importantly what did it taste like? For our three hour experience we were just trying starters and desserts but I was definitely impressed with what I had! I’ve always been impressed with the bread in first and business class, it tastes lovely and fresh not that awful plastic ‘plane’ bread that you get on other airlines. Starters were asparagus wrapped in ham, burrata with tomato carpaccio and Loch Fyne salmon tartare with wasabi creme fresh. Each dish was very enjoyable and for sure the best aeroplane food I’ve had – I’m interested to see how this will roll out in the future.
After the starters we had the option of dessert or a cheese board
I was really happy with my cheeseboard, both in terms of presentation and taste.
My neighbour was equally happy with her dessert double chocolate tart and lemon curd with crispy meringue. Seriously just looking back at this photo I would never guess that this is aeroplane food. Changes are also afoot for Club Europe short haul flights with new crockery and improved menus though a few journalists noted that they were disappointed with British Airways choice to offer Buy on Board for standard class. Alex Cruz is maintaining the commitment to BOB but will be introducing more choices on the menu.
Before our flight ended I went to take a look at the improvements to the First Class Cabin. Fresh new linens are being introduced here with bigger pillows and softer duvets.
I could see that the TV was much bigger than last time I’d flown in First and the interior of the suite looks fresher and more luxurious.
My time in the sky flew by – so to speak – and it was soon time to begin our descent into Heathrow.
And with that satisfying runway bump that travellers love, we had arrived at our destination.
We breezed through the arrivals lounge and we were taken to see the brand new and exclusive First Wing where First Class passengers will now Check in at Heathrow Terminal 5.
The First Class Wing allows passengers to go directly from check in, through security and straight into the Galleries First Lounge and Concorde Room. The combined space means privacy for First and Gold Executive Club members and the whole process only took about five minutes! I imagine even on a busy day you could be at the lounge in 20 minutes.
And have a bellini or glass of vintage champagne in your hand!
Even if you’re not travelling First, there are plans to introduce new technology to speed up your journey with automated boarding gates using facial recognition for domestic flights as well as a self-service bag drop.
There’s a good reason why I’m brand loyal to British Airways, I’ve long seen a commitment to quality and customer satisfaction and I’m thrilled to see even further improvement in their premium classes. I look forward to seeing all these changes rolled out.
Come fly with me!! Come aboard and experience it all through my eyes in this video on my new YouTube channel. And don’t forget to subscribe!!!
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Disclaimer: British Airways hosted this experience but I have been a loyal customer for many years and this content is NOT sponsored or influenced by the airline.