Flight Review: British Airways 787-8 Club Europe, London-Athens

For a short period this autumn, British Airways were running Boeing 787 Dreamliners on a number of routes. This is a serious upgrade from the A320 family aircraft that normally operate on short-haul routes, not least because the 787 comes with a full long haul Club World cabin as opposed to the “blocked middle seat” European business class normally found on the A320 series short haul aircraft.

Naturally, I filmed the experience for my YouTube channel:

I arrived to a newly COVID-secure Terminal 5, where I was immediately invited to sanitize my hands:

As a Gold Card holder, I could use the First Wing to directly access the Galleries First lounge (which is presently closed due to the lockdown in England). Here, QR codes by every seating area ensure nobody congregates around the buffet or coffee machines any more; staff bring everything from an online menu. Personally, I like this approach and the full service model is actually an improvement on the pre-COVID protocol!

Galleries First is not the newest or fanciest lounge at Heathrow, but, given it is really for Gold Card holders only (BA’s real first class lounge is the Concorde Room – across the atrium and where most of the fun happens), Galleries First is a great proposition. Who can say no to Bucks Fizz on demand?

Our aircraft was at a remote stand, so we boarded by bus. G-ZBJA is the oldest of BA’s 787s, having been delivered as far back as 2013. As a point of note, BA’s -9 and -10 variants both have an eight-seat first class cabin, but -8s like our aircraft do not.

Boarding the steps gave us a good look at the beautiful Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines and appreciate their size.

Onboard, the 787-8 has 35 Club World seats arranged across two cabins. Three rows of seven-abreast seating can be found in the nose, with a smaller cabin of two rows behind the second set of doors. Note that BA’s layout includes yin-yang seating with window seats arranged backwards, and even a middle seat, an increasing rarity in long haul business cabins these days.

I had chosen 3K, in my view one of the best in the cabin. It has a fine rearward view of the engine.

The yin-yang configuration means you must face your seat mate, but if you don’t wish to look at them all flight long you can raise the electronic divider as soon as the safety briefing is done.

Takeoff was prompt and it felt rather good to be leaving drab England for Athens. As a point of note, this flight was completed in October when international travel was permitted, and the flight was quite full – over 80% by my estimation.

Club World seats include a pop out screen, which is susceptible to glare – you may wish to dim the windows on the 787 to enjoy the screen properly!

One of the better things about this seat is the ottoman, which can be set to any angle between 90 and 180 degrees to meet the position of the seat.

The seat controls are sensibly tucked away by the side of the seat, away from any unintentional nudges.

This seat has not much changed since it was introduced to British Airways’ fleet in 2006. It doesn’t slide to allow you out of your seat when loaded, and, when deployed, makes the only storage space in the seat completely inaccessible.

The storage comprises a single drawer at floor level, which is one of the poorest offerings of any long haul business class.

There’s a powerful reading light which is easy to miss, just above your shoulder.

While most window seats in Club World involve stepping over or across an aisle passenger to access the aisle, rows 3 and 7, seats A and K, are by a bulkhead. From these seats you can directly step into the aisle as there is no corresponding passenger to step over. These seats feel very private and for all the shortcomings of the Club World seat, if you can get one of these bulkhead seats, your experience will be improved greatly.

The airline is introducing new, door-enabled, Club World suites on many aircraft, starting with the A350-1000. While not perfect, that new seat is a serious upgrade and equalises the experience for everyone in the business class cabin.

Many airlines have changed their catering during the course of the pandemic. One of the most extreme changes was at Turkish Airlines, who decided to sharply reduce service so that many passengers on some shorter routes receive no service at all. British Airways has gone for a middle ground, and in Club Europe hot meals have been replaced by sandwich boxes, metal cutlery for finger food and glass has been swapped for plastic.

Most of the rational for these changes has been branded as being for “passenger safety”, but the harsh reality is that in a landscape where thousands of staff have been laid off, the airline is being forced to make cost cuts when it comes to passenger service.

Here’s the Club Europe sandwich box, which had a tasty sandwich, side salad, water and a delicious Do+Co dessert (which has barely changed at all since before the pandemic!).

By way of contrast, here’s a picture of the pre-COVID catering from the same route I dug out from a few years ago.

Anyway, a nice surprise on this trip was that the airline had splashed out on the licensing for the inflight entertainment. Often, where one-off flights with wide bodies operate short haul routes, British Airways doesn’t go to the trouble of paying license fees for the music, film and TV. However, I assume, as this route was operating for around a month, they’d fixed it so that passengers could enjoy the entertainment as they pleased.

A minor highlight – we hit the service ceiling of 43,000 feet towards the end of the flight, and this is also the highest I believe I’ve travelled on any commercial aircraft.

There are two things of note in the 787’s lavatories; British Airways has a flower holder (now devoid of flowers!), and there is a mixer tap which is excellent; sometimes, cold water just won’t do.

We landed in Athens after 3 hours and 20 minutes, as the sun was setting. Overall, a good experience. I parted with 17,600 Avios and £25 to make this journey, one way. This isn’t the cheapest redemption in the world, but I was happy to splash out to ride the 787 on such a short route.

Do you have any thoughts on this route? Let us know what you think in the comment section.