British Airways, Club Class – Airbus A 350-1000: London Heathrow to Madrid

Introduction

Last week I returned from my Sunday run, all sticky and sweaty, only to be informed by the light of my life that we were booked to sample the British Airways A 350-1000 in a week’s time!

I mean, how cool is that? New type for me and literally a new aircraft!

The flight to Madrid is scheduled for a 06:20 departure out of Heathrow, which is why I spent last night at the Sofitel Heathrow T5, in walking distance to the terminal and connected via a footbridge.
There are two security checkpoints in T5. However, only checkpoint South has a fast track.
This must be the quickest security chech I’ve ever done. There’s no queue and I’m done in less than three minutes!
Airside, the terminal is still pretty deserted and the shops haven’t even opened yet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Heathrow so empty!

The Executive Club Lounge

My first stop is the BA lounge for breakfast!
Breakfast is something they do really well at the BA lounge. And fortunately, it already opens at 05:00 in the morning.

Boarding

At 05:40 my flight shows up on the screens as ‘boarding’. The flight will be departing from C61 in one of the satellite terminals. First thing to note: there is a lounge in satellite B and on the main concourse of the A gates. But there is no lounge at the C satellite. Second thing to note: you are not free to move as you please between the satellites. At least not without going through security.
Boarding is delayed by thirty minutes, due to the fact that the aircraft had not been towed over from the maintenance area to its parking stand on time. Sadly, gate C61 also happens to be just about the most impossible gate to take a picture of the aircraft from…

The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is very positive. Again, I find the colours all rather dark, but it’s still a very elegant and classy looking cabin.
The seat is definitely a vast improvement over that idiotic seat BA has on the rest of its fleet, which feels like an old and sagging armchair.
This seat is much, much nicer and is very comfortable.
The seat is very practical in its design and offers a lot of storage space.
Moreover, the seats are not aligned in a row. So that even with the door to the seat open, you still have a lot of privacy.

The Meal

The flight time is announced at 1 hour and 50 minutes. The service begins with the distribution of the hot towels, followed by the menus. There is a choice of three meals for the main course.
The food is delivered as a tray service, with each passenger’s meal brought out individually. The crew work efficiently. Even so, the combination of a short flight time with a fairly large Club Class section means that the individual waiting time is rather long.
As usual, I decide to go with the English breakfast, which is brought to me with a croissant and a bun on it.
To celebrate the centenary, on this flight the crew distribute a box with two hazelnut pralines from Hotel Chocolat. The chocolates are good, but they clearly lack the finess of Swiss chocolate.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Madrid with a delay of about 20 minutes. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite pier of Terminal 4. The queue for immigration is long, but at least it moves quickly. And even thought the automatic gate can’t seem to scan my face, the immigration officer can’t be bothered today and just lets me through anyway.

Getting into Town

I have five hours to spend here in Madrid on a lovely summer’s day. So upon exiting through arrivals, my first stop is the metro. I have a public transport card for Madrid which is quite convenient, because you can load multiple tickets on it. However, for trips to and from the airport, there is a EUR3.- surcharge that you can only load onto the card on the actual day of travel.

My two flights with British Airways yesterday and today were very pleasant. Of course, the brand new Airbus A 350-1000 this morning was a pleasant change from the usual narrowbodies.

But apart from that, I think British Airways has implemented some fundamental changes that I would definitely consider a huge improvement. From the Do&Co catering to the installation of the new seat, which is expected to be rolled out on the Boeing B 777 fleet shortly as well.

Of course, tastes vary. But for me, the hard product on the A 350-1000 and the improved catering definitely put British Airways on a par with Air France. With the Lufthansa group coming in far, far behind.

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Doha to Frankfurt

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Date: 17. February 2017
Departure: 08:00
Arrival: 12:10
Flight time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 4A

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Introduction

I have just enough time to upload and post my review of the Melbourne to Doha leg, and then it is already time to head to the departure gate for my flight to Frankfurt. I suppose you could say I am literally on my last leg…!

Boarding

The flight is departing from gate B8, which is the end gate on the B pier. As such, the position of the gate in relation to how the aircraft is actually parked is awkward and does not allow for any reasonable photos. Add to that the fact that the windows on the B pier have these opaque dots on them and it becomes near impossible to take any decent pictures of your awaiting chariot.

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The Cabin

The Airbus A 350 features Qatar Airways’ new Business Class configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 layout that gives every passenger direct access to the aisle. The additional width of the A 350 really comes into its own in this cabin layout, giving a spacious and airy feel to the cabin.

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The only thing I do not like about this aircraft is the fact that it has those electronically controlled window blinds. And while these are obviously a lot of fun to play with if, like me, you spend way too much time around engineers than is really good for you, they have the disadvantage of being remote controllable by the crew.

No sooner has the fasten seatbelt sign turned off after take-off the blinds come down and can no longer be opened individually until about ninety minutes out of Frankfurt.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are a chirpy bunch. Their service is efficient but unrushed and they are obviously determined not to waste any time so passengers can maximise the amount of rest they can get before we reach our destination. This is yet another thing that Qatar Airways does really well in my opinion. One of the things I really cannot stand on Singapore Airlines or SWISS is that for some reason their main meal service always seems to take for ever. On a flight across the Atlantic you are usually already half way there by the time they finally finish and clear everything up.

Amenities

The vanity kit is another one of the senselessly oversized tube of aftershave balm variety. Come to think of it, it would be interesting to know what is in the ladies’ vanity kit and if that has any more sensible contents.

The Meal

I know it has not been that long since my breakfast on the inbound from Melbourne, but I am feeling peckish nonetheless. I blame it on the jet lag.

I start with a tasty strawberry and banana smoothie with is rich and creamy.

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Next I have the Bircher Müsli with berries and nuts, which is served nicely decorated with a sprig of mint that gives it a refreshing twist.

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And then for the main course I have the Indian dish, in this case something called Aloo paneer tikki with jeera potatoes, green pea upma, makhani sauce and sambhar. And what an excellent dish it is too, even though I am really not quite sure what it is I am eating. Luckily, Qatar Airways always seem to have at least one Indian dish on their menu, usually the vegetarian option.

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For dessert I have a combination of lychee éclair and a coffee and chocolate mousse cake, which is also very good.

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Once the meal is over, I figure I may as well make another trip to Noddy land to pass the time before the next feeding.

The Second Service

Ninety minutes out of Frankfurt the cabin crew pass through the cabin asking passengers if there is anything they would like to eat before we arrive in Frankfurt. There is a section with light options on the menu for passengers to choose from. I decide to go with the shredded beef salad with Thai noodles. The dish is good and tastes authentic, but I am kind of disappointed because I had been hoping for something with a bit of ‘umpf’ in it, which this dish does not have.

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Arrival

Twenty-three hours after departing from Melbourne I arrive back in Frankfurt. We approach the airport from the East and land on the new runway that lies north of the apron. As I step off the plane I finally get a chance to take a proper look at her and take a few pictures. This is a really very cool plane!

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Conclusion

This flight brings to a close my journey to the land of Oz with the fabulous Qatar Airways. Their performance on the four flights I took has been truly stellar. What’s more, they are consistent in the service level they provide, even in comparison to my experience on previous trips with them. In comparison to the other Middle Eastern carriers I have tried, I think Qatar Airways definitely takes the biscuit. They are certainly more professional than Oman Air and their service feels a lot more sophisticated than Emirates. I also think their cabins are a lot classier than Emirates, which tends to be a bit flashy, bordering on gaudy. Of course Qatar Airways also has the advantage that with Hamad airport, they have a very spacious and nicely designed hub.

I shall be flying with Etihad for the first time in two months, and I am curious to see how they will compare to Qatar Airways, but I think it is safe to say that Qatar Airways is a hard act to follow.