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Review: British Airways Boeing 747, New York – London

Background

When I needed to travel between London and New York recently, I opted to mix it up and fly American Airlines out and British Airways back. Taking the day flight west on AA gave me a chance to explore its Boeing 777-300ER, which I had not flown before, along with its new reverse herringbone business class seat. For the overnight flight back, I returned to an old favourite, the upper deck of the British Airways Boeing 747.

Flight BA114 left New York JFK at 21.50 local time, arriving 09.55 the next morning at London Heathrow.

At the Airport

I took an Uber from my hotel on Manhattan to JFK, which was relatively painless. The roadworks on the last stretch to the airport are a headache and cause bumper-to-bumper traffic pretty much any time of day, so I left plenty of time to make my flight.

With my mobile boarding pass and carryon, I made a left when I entered the terminal towards the premium check-in and security area. There was a bit of a wait in the single lane to get documents checked. I’ve always found the security area somewhat odd; it’s in a hallway that has an upwards slope so trays and the like have a tendency to slide backwards. Once through, you have the Concorde Room (for ticketed First Class passengers and Concorde Room-card holders) to your left, while the two Galleries lounges are a walk through the duty-free shops and up a short escalator.

My first stop was at the Elemis spa desk, where I booked a facial/massage chair appointment. I then had dinner in the main dining room. Evening flights to London offer a “sleeper service”, which are focused on maximising sleep on the short redeye flight across the Atlantic. You can have dinner on the plane, but almost everyone takes advantage of eating on the ground in the lounge dining room. The food was ok, if not terribly exciting. The facial and massage chair I like as a combination to prepare for an overnight flight – it fights the inevitable dehydration of flying and relaxes you before getting to sleep. After the treatment, I sat and read in the Galleries First lounge for a bit, which is a rather uninspiring and dark-ish room. Overall, for a flagship route like New York, the lounges need a lot of work, but I have heard investment for a serious refurbishment may be on the way.

Boarding and First Impressions

While my flight wasn’t showing as boarding in the lounge, it was getting close to departure time, so I decided to walk over anyway. When I got to the gate, boarding was in the early stages, so I could just keep walking.

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There are few things I like as much in flying as going up the stairs to the upper deck of a Boeing 747. It just has some fantastic advantages to it: British Airways has only 20 Club World seats (configured 2-2) upstairs. Being upstairs, there is no through-traffic as passengers continue to get on, so it’s quiet and private right from the start. With two flight attendants, who generally love working on the upper deck, service tends to be good as well. Prized seats 62A/K and 64A/K have unlimited leg room, which is outstanding if you are well over 6’ like I am. The side bins for hand luggage, a feature the BA A380 has along its entire upper deck, are really useful for having your personal items right next to you. The combination of the bins and the legroom make a window seat a no-brainer.

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The Boeing 747 traditionally has come in two configurations, both with four cabin classes: First, Club World (Business), World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy), and World Traveller (Economy). First always has 14 seats in the nose of the plane. Club World is either 52 or 70 seats, configured 2-4-2 in BA’s yin-yang concept. World Traveller Plus is 2-4-2 across, and positioned between First and Club World (on aircraft with 52 Club World seats) or between Club World and World Traveller (on aircraft with 70 Club World seats). British Airways is reconfiguring a few 747s to have larger Club World cabins with a total of 90 CW seats for routes with high business traffic.

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I didn’t really see anything of the aircraft beyond the upper deck, and had a few minutes to myself upstairs being the first person up there. The condition of the cabin was good, with the dark blue seat covers decently clean and most things in working order – it isn’t the newest inflight product, but it seemed well-maintained.

The Seat

This is British Airways’ standard long-haul Club World product. On the main deck, it is configured 2-4-2. With 1-2-1 becoming the new standard in business class, and particularly with American now offering this on its Boeing 777 flying the same route, it feels tight and busy – especially when the dividers between the seats are down. Upstairs, with its 2-2 configuration, is much better but only 20 passengers have the benefit of sitting here. Aisle seats and the E-F middle pair if not traveling together offer subpar privacy; find yourself in one of these seats and you will see that BA is starting to lag behind the competition.

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I was surprised to see four kids under the age of 10 on the upper deck. I always thought there was a 16+ rule for sitting upstairs, but apparently not. I will say they were very well behaved. The seat I had, 62K, is one of my favourites. With the divider up, it is perfectly private, it has unlimited legroom and allows you to get up without having to step over your seatmate. Flights as long as London to Hong Kong or Los Angeles speed by when sitting here.

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Entertainment System

With our flight time being just under six hours, I reclined the second we could and went to sleep so did not make use of the inflight entertainment. Each Club World has a personal video screen with the usual range of content if you need it.

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Meals

Despite this being a short flight, the majority of which I was asleep, I was very pleased with the service. I was approached immediately by a member of the crew when walking upstairs, welcomed onboard, and asked if I needed anything and how I was planning to spend the flight. When I replied that I wanted to maximise sleep, I was given a bottle of water and a card to indicate whether I wanted to be woken for breakfast. I decided against this, postponing breakfast until the Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow. Watching the two flight attendants interact with the passengers as they arrived, they were very friendly, helping the (full) upper deck settle in their seats and getting ready for the flight. Everyone opted for sleep instead of dinner.

As one of a few people upstairs, I was approached by the senior crew member onboard with a personal welcome. She told me to ask if there was anything I needed; I imagine this was a gesture for Executive Club Gold Card holders and up.

I woke up thirty minutes before landing, and when I asked was given a breakfast smoothie to have something light before arriving.

Arrival

We touched down on time in terribly grey London. Astoundingly, we parked at a remote stand, meaning buses to the terminal – not a great joy when on a jumbo jet with 300 passengers. Sitting upstairs, I managed to get on the first bus, but I imagine the last rows of World Traveller waited quite a while before making it out. Immigration was relatively quiet, so I was in the Arrivals Lounge fairly quickly. Here again you find an Elemis Spa, so I spent another twenty minutes in the massage chair before having some breakfast and jumping on the tube to get home. There are showers here if you need to go straight to a meeting, and you can have a suit pressed while you shower.

Verdict

Overnight flights between New York and London, particularly when traveling in business or first, are all about maximising sleep and minimising jetlag. The spa treatments on the ground in JFK are a big help, but the overall facilities and the food can be improved.

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The service onboard was excellent, and the Arrivals Lounge on the other side allows you to complete the journey as you started. If the ground experience at JFK would get an investment, and BA would join the new 1-2-1 across standard for business class, then this flagship route would take another leap forward.

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