Last month, after a fabulous time in Paris and Switzerland with six family members, my daughter and I flew home by ourselves from Geneva to London to Dallas on British Airways. I booked us seats in business class for 60,000 Alaska Airlines miles plus $400 in taxes each. (Other family members flew United Polaris Business Class from Zurich to Chicago a few days before us).
The reason I splurged on these flights that have high taxes is because I was excited to try out British Airway’s new business class seats with privacy doors. Unfortunately, my flight ended up having the old seats and previous configuration.
Since I just reviewed our flights to Europe on Air France in business class on this blog earlier this week, I want to share this review today as a comparison. If I were to describe my business class experience in both airlines with just a few words:
Air France: Smooth, comfortable, pampered
British Airways: Unorganized, clunky, outdated
We paid more in miles and cash for our British Airways flights than we did for our Air France flights, but we didn’t like the experience as much. I guess I’ve turned into one of those business class snobs who finds something wrong with a lie-flat overseas experience. Who’d have thought?
First Leg: Geneva to London
Our flight from Geneva to London left at 6 a.m. We had business class tickets, but the plane itself did not have business class seats. Instead, we were in a row at the front of the plane in regular seats with an empty seat between us. The flight was short and uneventful.
Layover at London Heathrow Airport
We had a 5-hour layover at LHR. Of course, we headed to the business class lounge. There was a North lounge and a South lounge in Terminal 5, and we picked the one we ran into first (the South lounge).
The lounge was HUGE, but it was also very crowded. Almost every seat was taken.
One thing my daughter and I noticed immediately was the lack of charging outlets. In our section of the lounge, there were only six stand-up charging stations. Even the long desks that were perfect for working on a laptop did not have outlets. That seemed very strange, especially compared to the seats at the Capital One Lounge at DFW that have outlets galore.
Since we arrived in the morning, breakfast was being served. There was a buffet of cold items (cheese, fruit, bread). We could order hot breakfast sandwiches via a QR code.
Drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were plentiful.
There were smaller drink stations set up throughout the lounge, each with different snacks.
Toward the end of our time, the buffet food switched to lunch. We ate some cold sandwiches before leaving. You will not go hungry or thirsty in this lounge.
Because it was crowded and because London Heathrow Airport had cancelled a ton of flights and lost baggage, the overall mood inside the airport and inside the lounge was a bit chaotic. Of course, that’s not British Airways’ fault.
Issue with Paid Seat Assignments
While I was still in the lounge, I noticed the our seats for our upcoming long flight from London to Dallas were changed. This was disappointing, because I opted to pay for seat assignments a few months prior. British Airways will only let you pick your seats (even in business class) at check-in unless you have status or unless you pay ahead of time. We paid an extra $100+ per seat to get two seats together near the window. I used seatguru.com to pick the best-reviewed seats (which were in the back row where neither of us would have to climb over anyone to get out).
I went to the customer service desk inside the lounge to inquire about the seat change. The agent told me that we must have had a plane change, and I would have to request a refund for the seat assignments online.
Note: I requested a refund for my paid seat assignments a few weeks ago. The website said the refund would take 28 days or longer. I’m happy to report that I just got the refund yesterday, three weeks after submission.
Business Class Seats and Layout
Our newly assigned seats were in the middle of a 2-3-2 layout on the upper level.
I had the aisle seat, and my daughter had the middle seat that faced backwards.
Our seats had a pillow and blanket set on them already.
The first thing we noticed was how little storage these seats had. There was only one small drawer near the floor that contained noise cancelling headphones. You can see the drawer on my photo above. (Note: The seats near the windows had a lot more shelf space and storage. That’s another reason why I chose those seats in advance).
My daughter’s middle seat had slightly more room with small ledge in between our seats.
My aisle seat had a very low armrest, and my seat was parallel with another seat across the narrow aisle. It did not feel at all private like our seats on Air France.
The problem with the layout and these seats was that the footrest that completes the lie-flat bed folds down from in front of you. These are a bit clunky.
So, the people who sat in the middle and next to the window had to literally climb over a sleeping person’s bed to get out of their seat. I noticed most people put their footrest down immediately after takeoff. I’m thankful I didn’t have to climb over anyone, but my daughter did. It was awkward.
Of course, the seats did lie flat. They didn’t recline as smoothly and easily as the seats on Air France, but they were functional. I did manage to get about two hours of sleep on this 10 hour flight.
Our flight was delayed on the ground for almost two hours, making our total time on the plane close to 12 hours. I was thankful we at least could stretch out during that time. Since there were 7 seats per row, the cabin was a bit noisier than our previous business class cabin on Air France.
Issues with IFE
After I got settled in my seat and during our 2-hour delay at the gate at LHR, I tried to see what was on my in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen. My screen was totally blank. Meanwhile, other passengers had already started movies. I figured a simple reset would get it going.
However, I couldn’t get the attention of any flight attendants. I pressed the flight attendant light but had to wait what seemed like a long time for someone to come to my seat. After looking at my screen, the first flight attendant said he would reset it. He never came back around to see if it was working.
A bit later, I pressed the call button again. A different flight attendant said she would reset it. Again, nobody ever checked back to see if it would work. It never started.
So yes, I had to press the call button a 3rd time after another half-hour or so. This flight attendant decided to reset the entire row. Nope, still didn’t work.
A while later, another flight attendant said it was clear my IFE was broken and could not be fixed. Since the flight was 10 hours long, he offered me another business class seat in a different cabin. It was the only empty seat. I would, however, be seated far away from my 11-year-old daughter.
Upon hearing this, the passenger seated on the other side of my daughter volunteered to move. Later in the flight, in my new seat, my IFE stopped working again. I did ask for another reset. It started working again for a bit but was non-functional half the time. I gave up on it.
Service and Food
Service on the flight was a bit inconsistent. My daughter received her food menu and amenity kit right away. I never received a food menu (I think they ran out?) and got my amenity kit much later. This is due to being serviced by different flight attendants splitting the center section.
The amenity kit was very similar to the one we received on Air France:
It contained socks, eye mask, toothbrush, ear plugs, moisturizer, lip balm and a relaxation pulse point roll-on.
For the first. meal, I had a chicken pot pie dish. It was quite good.
There was a smaller meal offered toward the end of the flight. I got a pasta dish but forgot to take a photo.
Our flight didn’t seem to offer many snacks in between the meals. A flight attendant offered us a raisin granola bar, which we both passed on. Other than that, no snacks. Perhaps they came around while I was sleeping for two hours, but my daughter was awake and didn’t notice anything.
The seat configuration on this plane was awkward, and the seats seemed a bit clunky and old. I wish my IFE worked the entire duration. Service was spotty. Still, it was nice to stretch out my legs and recline.
Since we made it through London Heathrow without losing any bags and without any flight cancellations, we should call it a win. Heathrow has been a mess this summer.
However, if this would have been my first business class experience, I would not be sold on spending the extra miles for business class in the future. I will only consider business class on British Airways after all the planes have the new layout and seat design.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.
Ian Snyder (Family Flys Free) says
Part of me wants to try this, part of me wants to steer clear. Bummer I will never get to fly their *first* class aboard a 747 more than anything.
@Ian Steer clear! 🙂
Those business class seats look awful.
There are definitely better seats out there!
That looks like the same (or slightly updated) BA lie-flat business class seat that I flew on a 747 SIN->LHR flight 20 years ago. At that time, it was revolutionary and I was so excited at the prospect of getting 8 hours sleep in a lie-flat configuration on a 15+ hour flight (which I did!). I believe they also gave out pajamas. Most other carriers were still flying recliners in J and angle lie-flats were just starting to appear (like the Singapore Airlines ‘space-bed’ which I also loved). So funny how business class has evolved from recliners to lie-flat privacy door suites in two decades!
@Erik Business class has definitely evolved so much! I guess I got spoiled by experiencing Air France first.
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