Earlier on this year, as I was planning out my trip to Europe with my wife to celebrate a friend’s wedding, I began to think about the different options we had to get across the pond in style.
Having done most of my flying (paid and award) with Star Alliance partners, I decided to venture out to another airline group to expand my business class palate.
As I live in Montreal, I decided to take advantage of the new Aer Lingus routing between Montreal and Dublin and the corresponding sweet spot on British Airways Avios. We also hit a transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards, so a one-way ticket in business class for two people cost just over 48,000 MR points and an additional $179.84 taxes/fees, which is definitely a bargain.
After calling in to reserve our throne seats, and having read about the Aer Lingus Revival Lounge that we had access to as transatlantic business class passengers upon arrival, I was giddy with excitement to know that we had garnered considerable value out of the points.
Alas, while enjoying Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans in March, I awoke to find an e-mail from British Airways informing me that our flight to Dublin had been cancelled.
Disappointed, I called in to British Airways Executive Club to see what had happened. The agent informed me that Aer Lingus had cancelled all flights from Montreal to Dublin (and vice-versa) pending the delivery of new aircraft.
He looked into options for rebooking us, and suggested a flight on British Airways to London in Club World (business class) and connecting through to Dublin in Club Europe (also business class). I was surprised to find out that there would be no additional collection of Avios, taxes, or fees, as this was, as he put it, “completely not your fault.”
I saw this as an opportunity to fly on a product that I wouldn’t otherwise book on, due to the sky-high surcharges that accompany British Airways (and flying through London Heathrow in general). Whereas the Aer Lingus flight had originally cost us 31,200 Avios plus $89.82 per person, our new itinerary would have cost us 57,750 Avios plus $553.31 per person.
I accepted the offer to change the itinerary and began to plan out the experience by reading up about the aircraft, service, and options on the ground in London in between flights.
My wife and I arrived at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport with plenty of time to spare, as our inbound flight was delayed and our boarding time had been pushed back by around an hour. After the usual painfully slow security screening that I find is typical of Montreal, we headed through the duty free shops to the National Bank Lounge, which we had access to as British Airways Club World passengers and as Priority Pass holders from the American Express Platinum Card.
Apparently, the rest of Montreal had access to the lounge, too, because it was packed. There was a queue of around 15 thirsty guests at the entrance who scowled at the busy staff every time a guest left the lounge. Luckily, we had arrived just before a swarm of passengers, and we were soon happily seated in the lounge.
I have been to this lounge a handful of times before, so I knew not to expect anything memorable. In fact, the last three times I have been to the lounge, they have served the same butter chicken, basmati rice, and reheated frozen vegetables (the kind that you find in the frozen food section at your local supermarket) as hot items. There is also a small salad bar available.
The beverage selection is better than at some lounges, but by no means luxurious. I went for a glass of prosecco before graduating to sparkling water and a self-poured rum and coke. There were also the usual domestic beers, wines (one red, one white, and one sparkling), and spirits available.
The lounge slowly cleared out as outbound planes began boarding, and we left to board the British Airways 787-8 Dreamliner feeling pleasantly imbibed and ready for some lie-flat delight.
British Airways | BA94
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Cabin: Business class
Route: Montreal (YUL) to London (LHR)
Date: Thursday, September 12, 2019
Time: Departing 9:35pm and arriving 9:10am
Duration: 6 hours 25 minutes
There was a small queue of business class passengers standing near the gate, which was cordoned off by the gate agents until the flight was ready for boarding. Boarding began around an hour behind schedule, and was entirely orderly. I quickly hurried to my seat to snap a few photos before it was full of tired passengers.
British Airways has a 2-3-2 configuration on their 787 business class, which has a few quirks about it.
There are seven seats in each row, with three being rearward-facing and four forward-facing. There are a total of seven rows and 49 business class seats. The 787-8 features three cabins: Club World (business class), World Traveller Plus (premium economy), and World Traveller (economy), whereas the 787-9 version also features a First Class cabin.
Seats A, E, and K in each row are rearward facing. If you are seated in seats A or K, note that you have to step over the passenger’s footrest in seats B or J to access the aisle.
While this isn’t an issue if their footrest isn’t down, it becomes a bit awkward if they wake to find someone straddling their bed en route to the facilities or to access the overhead bins.
The second quirk is that you have the luxury of staring deep into a stranger’s eyes during boarding, taxi, take-off, and landing. The way the seat is configured, you are very exposed to your seat mate. While this may be convenient for raising a toast to your travel partner, it seems like a bizarre setup for people who don’t know each other.
There is a privacy screen that can be lifted once you reach cruising altitude, which I assume most people do to avoid awkward small talk, lengthy rock-paper-scissors tournaments, or perhaps a few games of charades with their cabin mates.
Luckily, I was seated with my wife, although she definitely made use of the screen after she had enough of my post-champagne antics. Note that the flight attendants are militant about having the privacy screen down when it is supposed to be down (during taxi, takeoff, and landing).
The third quirk is that passengers in forward-facing seats B, D, F, and J are very exposed to aisle traffic. If you decide to maximize your sleep and skip the meal service, I imagine that you will be bumped and your sleep disturbed, even with eye masks and earplugs on.
This leaves seat E, which is a rearward facing seat sandwiched in the middle of the cabin between seats D and F. An advantage of the E seats seems to be you have a choice to access either aisle, whereas a possible disadvantage of these seats is that you get the pleasure of gazing deeply into the souls of not one, but two complete strangers before the privacy screens can be raised.
My seat, 6K, was comfortable enough, and it was a novel feeling to cruise down the runway facing the rear of the plane. There was also a greater sense of privacy compared to other seats in the cabin.
The seats were prepared with a large pillow, bedding, and the usual crummy headphones for the in-flight entertainment system.
The footrest can be raised and lowered as per your lounging preferences. I much prefer a footwell over the footrest, although if you are a taller human than me, the extra space may better suit your needs.
The seat controls are located on the divider between the two seats. Note that the right-most button is the one that controls the privacy screen.
When seated, the table and TV are stowed in the wall of the adjacent seat. The tray table can be slid back and forth, depending on which position you have set your seat.
Another quirk of this configuration is the storage. There is a sliding drawer below the TV and tray table that is big enough to fit several personal items (in my case, noise cancelling headphones and a Nintendo Switch). Note that there is also a power outlet and USB port, which is fine for charging your devices in the drawer but also terribly awkward to access, as you must get out of your seat and crouch down to access them.
The menu is stored behind the footrest, along with the standard magazine and other airline-related literature.
Storage is one of several areas that I found to be lacking on this aircraft. Not only is the storage awkward and difficult to access, but there isn’t any space close to the seat to keep personal items handy. This, paired with the flight attendants’ insistence on all carry on luggage being stowed in the overhead bins and the lack of direct aisle access for passengers seated at window seats, is slightly inconvenient.
Soon after boarding, the flight attendants distributed amenity kits and a bottle of water. The amenity kits are made by The White Company, and have branding celebrating British Airways’s 100th anniversary (which was on August 25th, 2019).
The amenity kits feature standard items (eye shade, toothbrush, toothpaste, a pen, ear plugs, oversized socks, and some White Company products).
After the amenity kits were distributed, the flight staff came around offering a welcome beverage. Naturally, I went for the bubbly option, which was almost as enjoyable as the safety video that played shortly afterward.
We took off around an hour behind schedule, and after a smooth ride to cruising altitude, the in-flight service began.
Food & Drink
The flight attendants distributed another beverage prior to beginning the dinner service. I was offered another glass of champagne and some warm assorted nuts while I perused the menu for the flight.
For a starter, I selected the seared Pacific scallops, which were served with a cauliflower and saffron puree and grilled asparagus. Of all the food served on this flight, I found this to be the most delicious. A fresh roll and salad accompanied the starter.
Another quirk of the seating arrangement is that the flight attendant has to reach over the passenger in the aisle seat to hand you your tablecloth, cutlery, food, and beverages. While my wife was also dining, I imagine that handing food over a fully reclined passenger may also be a bit tricky.
For the main, I selected the seared fillet of Alberta beef, which was served with chablis mustard sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, carrot puree, and broccoli. In retrospect, I would have gone with one of the other options, as I found the dish to be quite soupy and the textures uniformly mushy.
Following dinner, I wasn’t particularly hungry, having eaten in the lounge and onboard. I find it hard to resist a cheese plate, though, and I was pleasantly surprised by all three cheeses.
I seemed to be one of the only passengers still awake at this point, and the flight attendant further offered me a toffee and pear Charlotte, which was excellent.
The TV is located just above the tray table and swings outward when released. The TV is of a decent size, and once it has been released from its resting position, it is a comfortable viewing distance from the seat.
The remote control is located next to the seat, which is also where the headphone jack can be found.
The back of the remote control has a full QWERTY keyboard as well as some video game controls. I often wonder why controls come equipped with a keyboard – is it for messaging the seatmate sitting right in front of you?
There were a host of options spanning many genres. I tend not to pay too much attention to new releases or series, but there seemed to be some popular titles available. I opted for the Amy Winehouse documentary and a documentary about the Apollo space mission during the flight. You can preview the list of TV shows and movies that are available on your flight on the British Airways website.
There are two lavatories in the business class cabin. One is located at the front of the cabin, and the other in between the two business class cabins next to the galley. The bathroom isn’t particularly large, nor does it contain any special touches (aside from some White Company washes and balms).
A curious flight attendant asked what I was doing as I held the door to the lavatory open and snapped some pictures. She then asked me to ensure that I don’t photograph the flight crew (which I wouldn’t do without permission anyway), and walked away.
While there is a flower holder in the bathroom, there was no flower present for this flight.
It took me a few seconds to realize what this sign was portraying. At first, I thought it was suggesting some stretches to do, but then soon realized it was for tying your shoelaces (which could be done just as easily at your seat, no?)
When it came time to recline my seat to catch some sleep, I used the call button to ask the flight attendant for my bedding, and I hastily made my bed and closed my eyes for a blissful short sleep.
The White Company bedding was comfortable and the cabin temperature was nice, which allowed me to fall asleep quickly (I’m sure the large glass of port also helped).
Due to the short duration of this flight, you are given three options for breakfast: a full breakfast on board (the flight attendants wake you 1 hour and 15 minutes prior to landing), a “wake me up beverage” (the flight attendants wake you no earlier than 50 minutes prior to landing and give you a beverage of your choice), or maximizing sleep (you are woken no earlier than 40 minutes prior to landing and have access to a selection of juices and water in the galley).
By the time I handed my breakfast order to a flight attendant, she chuckled and said that she’d be waking me up in approximately two and a half hours for my next meal.
When I was awoken for breakfast, I accepted it but then immediately fell back asleep for another half hour or so. I was still feeling full, too, having finished my dinner only hours prior. I hurriedly drank my lukewarm cappuccino and scarfed down the peameal bacon sandwich, croissant, and bircher muesli (which was delicious) before my tray was cleared and we prepared for landing.
As we were descending, I enjoyed some nice views of the sun rising up over my ancestral homeland. It was also nice to be reminded that our flight was being powered by Rolls Royce engines.
Note that in lieu of breakfast on board, British Airways Club World passengers may also have access to the Galleries Arrivals Lounge in Terminal 5, which serves a full English breakfast. If you are connecting through to another flight in Terminal 5, there is also a British Airways Galleries Club Lounge located in Terminal 5, which also serves a full English breakfast.
Our connecting flight to Dublin was delayed, and I found this particular lounge to be well appointed with shower rooms, plenty of food & beverage options, runway views, and ample room to rest and/or work.
Prior to taking this flight, I was advised by someone who has flown this route dozens of time that the service tends to be very by-the-book and with plenty of dry humour.
On this particular flight, I found the service to be professional, orderly, and entirely standard. There wasn’t anything that stood out as a “wow” factor, though, and after the meal service, the flight attendants were rarely seen in the cabin to check up on passengers until breakfast was being served.
Prior to my original flight with Aer Lingus being cancelled, I did not picture myself paying the high taxes and fees for the privilege of flying to London direct from Montreal on British Airways. I would likely have routed on Swiss using Aeroplan to access Europe instead, saving hundreds of dollars while still flying in a nice product.
While still an entirely comfortable way to get across the Atlantic, I was underwhelmed by most of the food served on board and slightly baffled by the cabin configuration. Unless I was in a pinch to get to London and there weren’t any other options available, I don’t think I would pay the extra Avios and high carrier surcharges to fly on this product again.
With a 30% (or higher) transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards, though, it offers an option for people in Toronto or Montreal to fly to London for 38,000 MR points (compared to the 55,000 that it would cost with Aeroplan), which is still pretty good value.
Finally, note that British Airways will soon be rolling out new cabin configurations with direct aisle access on their 787s (and no more rearward-facing seats), so hopefully they’ll be able to address the problems stemming from the quirky seating configuration on this product.