British Airways isn’t known for having a market-leading long-haul Business Class product. As most people know, the yin-yang configuration of its existing ‘Club World’ seats, once a pioneering design, now stands up poorly against the latest offerings in the industry.
Better privacy, direct aisle access, even double beds and enclosed suites, are fast becoming the Business Class norm, and despite introducing the first flat-bed seats of any Business Class back in 2000, British Airways has been left behind for at least the last decade in a competitive marketplace dominated by Middle East and Asian carriers.
The airline is stepping up its game in this cabin though, with the introduction of the Airbus A350-1000 from August 2019, featuring a brand new Club World cabin. Now it has been revealed, does it change the prospects for those flying Business Class on British Airways in the future, and when are we likely to see it on Asia-Pacific routes?
The new seat
British Airways has opted for a heavily customised version of the Collins Aerospace ‘Elements’ Business Class seat, previously known as the ‘Super Diamond’ seat. Gone is the 2-4-2 arrangement used on the majority of British Airways planes in this cabin, in favour of direct aisle access for all passengers in a 1-2-1 layout.
Furthermore, although the product is already widely used by Qatar Airways (the model predating the Qsuite), Virgin Australia, China Airlines, Air Canada and American Airlines among others, British Airways will be the first airline to install the optional privacy door at each seat.
As with other such products, like the Qsuite, the doors will have to be locked in the open position for takeoff and landing for regulatory (safety) reasons.
In common with the current Club World seat, it reclines into a fully flat bed, though having lauded this benefit in its long-haul Business Class cabins for the last 19 years, BA was hardly going to take a step back on this!
Bed length is 79″, though at the foot end the bed narrows into a ‘V’ shape as your feet go under the console of the seat in front.
White and grey bedding from The White Company, accompanied by their amenity kit in a black case, combines with the dark, muted colour scheme of the seat, offset by pale stitching in the fabric, brown wood accents in the trim and white external suite walls.
Take a look at this 360-degree video to scan around the new A350 Club Suite cabin yourself.
As you can see from the 360, unlike many operators BA is retaining the overhead lockers above the middle seats in the A350. Personally we favour this approach, aside from not having to share storage space for your carry on luggage with the window passengers we find the cavernous ceiling odd when the lockers are not installed.
The Collins Elements seat isn’t short of storage space, with two flaps to the side, which open to reveal compartments for smaller items like your passport and mobile phone.
Device charging sockets are also located here.
There is also a small door attached to the back wall alongside your head that opens to reveal another storage area ideal for headphones, and also housing a vanity mirror.
In-flight entertainment is in the form of a fixed 18.5″ high-definition screen, with gate-to-gate programming available.
That’s a significant step up from the existing 12.1″ screens in the current Club World cabin, which must be retracted for takeoff and landing. It even beats BA’s First Class screen size of 15.4″, with the exception of the 787-9, which has a 23″ model.
A privacy screen between the two middle E/F seats allows you to completely enclose yourself in your own suite if you are sitting next to a stranger, so unless you’re a die-hard window seat fan there are really no bad options in this cabin.
Those familiar with the layout of these seats, or similar layouts like that found on Cathay Pacific, will know that in the middle pair with reverse herringbone seating you are still sat quite far apart from your neighbour.
One advantage of the current Club World seat when travelling together is that the forwards-backwards window pair or rear-facing middle pair are quite sociable for couples.
The tray table on this seat extends from under the fixed IFE screen. You can just see it in the following photo.
Seat controls are via a touchscreen in the armrest below the storage compartments, with quick preset buttons for takeoff and landing position, reclined and bed mode. It’s likely you’ll be able to control the lighting through this screen too, in common with the Virgin Australia and China Airlines ‘Super Diamond’ seats.
British Airways has also uploaded a short video showing the door operation at a middle seat, and the various storage options.
British Airways will configure the A350-1000 with three cabin classes, comprising 56 Club World Suites (Business Class) in a 1-2-1 layout, 56 World Traveller Plus seats (Premium Economy Class) in a 2-4-2 layout and 219 World Traveller seats (Economy Class) in a 3-3-3 layout.
This provides a total capacity of 331 seats. It also represents the highest Premium Economy seat count of any BA aircraft, even the A380 features one less seat in that cabin.
The BA A350-1000 will not feature a First Class cabin, at least in this initial version.
Another big shift from BA’s current Club World product is that all passengers in the new design sit in a forward facing position. The seats are slightly angled away from the aisle, window seats toward the window itself and aisle seats towards the centre of the aircraft, a so-called ‘reverse herringbone’ layout.
In the current Club World, seats alternate between forward and backward facing, the latter being unpopular with some passengers.
The ‘Club Suite’ cabin on the Airbus A350-1000 will comprise a large forward section of 44 seats across 11 rows, followed by a three-row mini-cabin behind the second main aircraft doors with 12 seats.
Three bassinet positions are located at seats 1K, 15A and 15K.
Cathay Pacific accommodate a similar total – 46 of their Business Class seats feature the forward section of the A350-1000, the similar Safran (formerly Zodiac) Cirrus seats, also in a reverse herringbone layout.
The only other A350-1000 operator, Qatar Airways, manages 38 Qsuite Business Class seats in the same space, also manufactured by Collins Aerospace.
It should be noted however that all three airlines have opted for different galley and toilet configurations, so a simplistic capacity comparison is not totally valid.
Which aircraft will be delivered with the new seats?
British Airways is taking delivery of 72 brand new aircraft over the next five years. While a large number of these will be short-haul A320 family jets, there are also A350-1000s, Boeing 787-10s and Boeing 777-9s for long-haul fleet replacement, as the airline phases out Boeing 747-400s and older 777s.
All of the upcoming A350-1000, 787-10 and 777-9 aircraft will feature the new ‘Club Suite’.
While the new Club Suite is certainly good news for British Airways Business Class travellers, there’s usually bad news when it comes to how quickly such a product is likely to be rolled out across such a large fleet of long-haul planes.
One thing the current BA Club World seat has going for it, if nothing else, is consistency. Practically the entire long-haul fleet of 134 wide-body aircraft now features the current iteration of the product.
What we do know is that six aircraft are set to feature the new seats by the end of 2019. That comprises four brand new Airbus A350-1000s, the first of which (G-XWBA) is already on the production line in Toulouse and should deliver in July, and two existing Boeing 777-300ERs set to be retrofitted by year-end.
The first A350-1000 aircraft will start crew training and familiarisation flights on the early morning Heathrow to Madrid flight (BA456/457 according to Head for Points) from a yet to be announced date in August.
From 1st October 2019 the airline will move the first plane and product onto a long-haul route – a daily service between London Heathrow and Toronto.
From 1st October 2019
|Flight||From / To||Aircraft||Days|
|BA93||LHR1305 – YYZ1555||351||Daily|
|BA99||LHR1655 – YYZ1945||EQV||Daily|
|BA92||YYZ1830 – LHR0640*||351||Daily|
|BA98||YYZ2155 – LHR1000*||EQV||Daily|
* Next day
EQV – Equipment varies (BA uses a mixture of the 777-200ER, 787-8 and 787-9 on BA98/99 flights)
A week later, a second A350-1000 will fly one of the daily London Heathrow – Dubai rotations.
From 8th October 2019 (9th October from Dubai)
|Flight||From / To||Aircraft||Days|
|BA107||LHR1245 – DXB2300||351||Daily|
|BA109||LHR2115 – DXB0730*||772||Daily|
|BA106||DXB0130 – LHR0615||351||Daily|
|BA108||DXB0920 – LHR1415||772||Daily|
* Next day
By 31st December 2019 four A350-1000s will be in the fleet with an additional two 777-300ERs planned to be retrofitted with the new product by then, including a new First Class cabin, yet to be revealed but due to be an enhanced version of the airline’s newest First Class seats on the Boeing 787.
It’s quite possible that these aircraft will have only eight First Class seats instead of the current 14.
Whether all six aircraft will be dedicated to these two long-haul launch routes remains to be seen, however from January 2020 the delivery of more new aircraft alongside the retrofit program for the existing fleet means the product will slowly roll out across the network.
Which aircraft will be refitted?
It seems certain that the Boeing 747-400, which will be retired from the BA fleet by 2024, won’t receive the new product.
In recent talks with the airline and seat designers, Rob from Head for Points also said he was unable to get anyone to confirm that it will ever be fitted to the Airbus A380s.
That could be bad news for the Singapore – London route, which is 50% served by the superjumbo.
It leaves the newer 777s (those staying in the fleet) and all 787s as the only two aircraft types BA will definitely refit at this stage.
How long will it take?
Interestingly Rob at Head for Points was also told that production of the new seat is limited to three per day (seats not aircraft!), so it will take a good four years to refit the entire 134-strong long-haul fleet, once you account for the fact that new aircraft deliveries will require a large share of the new seats.
‘Critical mass’, it seems, won’t happen before 2021/22 for this product. We will almost certainly be waiting until the 747s are retired five years from now before we can finally wave goodbye to the existing seats, and that still leaves the question of what BA’s intention for the A380s is.
Will the seat be smaller on the 787?
In a footnote to its media release, British Airways has admitted that not all Club World IFE screens in this new product will measure the full 18.5″, on some aircraft types they will instead measure 17″.
That immediately piqued our interest. Why would you have a smaller IFE screen size on the same seat, installed on a different plane?
Well it’s probably the first hint that not all ‘Club Suites’ will be created equal.
Even though they are all wide-body aircraft types, the aircraft BA are installing and retrofitting the Club Suite to have quite significant differences in cabin width.
- Boeing 787: 5.49m
- Airbus A350: 5.61m
- Boeing 777: 5.86m
- Boeing 777X: 5.96m
That means the narrowest wide-body aircraft in the fleet, the Boeing 787, is most likely to suffer some “compromises”.
Qatar Airways, for example, uses the same ‘Super Diamond’ seat on its 787s, A380s (upper deck) and some A350s.
The Qatar seat measures 22″ wide on the 787 and A380, but gains an extra 0.25″ width on the A350. Bed length is also shorter on the airline’s 787 and A380 (78″ to 80″ depending on which seat you are in), while on the wider A350 it is 80″ to 82″, a full two inches extra.
Interestingly Qatar has stuck with a 17″ IFE screen on all its ‘Super Diamond’ products, so it’s good to see BA is planning to make the most of the bigger seats with larger screens.
Our prediction though is that the 787 will lose out a little here – slightly narrower seats, shorter beds and smaller IFE screens.
Where does this leave BA First Class?
As we mentioned above the first two Boeing 777s being refitted this year will also feature an enhanced First Class seat, however this is thought to be along the lines of the existing product fitted on the Boeing 787-9.
Currently this seat does not feature closing privacy doors, so while it is certainly more spacious than the new Club Suite it now seems slightly lacking.
We’ll be interested to see what improvements British Airways reveal in this cabin in order to keep the two products sufficiently differentiated.
Unless the London – Dubai flight is useful to you, there’s still no firm plan to deploy this new product to Singapore or any other Asia-Pacific city.
The good news is that the first two Boeing 777s to be refitted are planned to be the 777-300ER model, which does fly from Singapore to both London and Sydney. BA has 12 of these aircraft and will receive four more new models with the ‘Club Suites’ in due course.
Of course there’s no guarantee that the first two aircraft to be refitted will fly through Singapore, more likely BA will be keen to dedicate them to other routes for best product consistency.
However if more retrofits are concentrated on the 777-300ER aircraft in 2020 there’s a good chance we will eventually see the ‘Club Suite’ operating the BA15/16 London – Singapore – Sydney service, which would be a great improvement for travellers here.
Unfortunately with no prospect of the A380s being refitted any time soon, it’s the 777s and possibly the A350s you’ll need to keep an eye on to secure this new seat in the years to come.
In our view London – Bangkok wouldn’t be a bad A350-1000 route for BA, given they already operate a three-class 777 with no First Class cabin, though the A350’s configuration may be a bit ‘premium-heavy’ for the Thai market. The route also requires more than one aircraft for daily service.
We’ll keep an eye on the situation and let you know as soon as the product is heading for Asia with any reasonable consistency.
We summarised the First and Business Class seats to look out for this year in our article from January. In case you missed it, it’s the UK’s other big long-haul operator Virgin Atlantic who is next to reveal a brand new Business Class seat on the A350-1000.
Virgin will certainly want to have a flashy, headline-grabbing seat to put up against arch-rival BA. It’s too late now though if they don’t, their product will have been long decided.
With a similar delivery timeframe for their first A350-1000 as BA, we won’t have to wait long to see what they have come up with – Virgin’s big A350 Upper Class reveal is slated for next month.
There’s no doubt here that this new seat is a vast improvement from the current Club World cabin, but frankly a vast improvement is what was needed after nearly two decades of product stagnation.
BA had let the existing Club World seat fall so far behind industry standards, especially in the last ten years, that any minor enhancement was never going to be enough.
Regulars in Club World, and there are many especially on North Atlantic routes whose companies give them little choice in the matter, will no doubt be rejoicing at this news.
The problem now, with over 7,500 existing Club World seats in the fleet to replace, is how long it will take BA to reach ‘critical mass’. Until then, your chances of sitting in this seat remain very low.
As for Asia-Pacific routes, there’s no news yet. The first two Boeing 777-300ERs are set to receive the new product by the end of the year, and while the aircraft type does operate to both Hong Kong and Singapore / Sydney, there’s no guarantee BA won’t initially dedicate those two aircraft to shorter routes to maintain product consistency.
With no firm plans to refit the A380s at this stage, we have to hope more of the 777-300ER fleet will receive these seats sooner rather than later before we can be sure to see this product operating out of Singapore to Sydney and London on a regular basis.
Once that happens, we’ll let you know, and of course we’ll jump on board for a full review.
(Cover Photo: British Airways)