In a nutshell: British Airways A380 World Traveller Basic is a fine economy class experience across the Atlantic. The seats are reasonably comfortable, the IFE extensive, the staff friendly, and the food about par for the course. The lack of WiFi, non-adjustable headrest, and below average second meal service are the few mild drawbacks.
It’s been nearly 12 years since I’ve flown British Airways, since my first trip to Great Britain back in 2008. I was traveling with family friends, and the person leading the whole endeavor insisted that we fly nonstop on British Airways from San Francisco to London. I wasn’t in any place to argue at the time, although I might now, given how much more travel and flight booking experience I have. Nonstop flights are nice, but not if they come at a significant premium.
All I recall from the flight was that it was uneventful. At least until we were on descent and my good friend started vomiting. The flight attendants did their best to help, disposing of multiple airsickness bags. His heaves continued even as we made our way onto the tube. What a welcome to London!
With that experience in the (distant) rear-view mirror, I was excited to be flying Britain’s flag carrier again. This trip had me booked in British Airways A380 World Traveller basic rather than flying a classic 747-400 like I had on that first trip. But I’m not dismayed. A journey on the Queen is planned for later this year.
I booked the economy itinerary as an open-jaw trip. The outbound itinerary would take me home to California after spending a very enjoyable but brief 40 hours in Barcelona. I have yet to fly the “return”, which is an outbound itinerary to Copenhagen later this year.
This might not make a lot of sense, but as one-way economy tickets were going for $221 nonstop to the Bay Area (without food or seat selection), spending $381 (as 25,433 Chase Ultimate Rewards through the travel portal) wasn’t bad for a return ticket. This trick of booking a return flight from Europe is an interesting strategy I’ve written about before.
The flight booked through Chase/Expedia would earn me a mere 1,878 American AAdvantage miles. I considered crediting it to Alaska, but the itinerary is actually booked as a Finnair codeshare, which does not credit to Alaska. The basic fare meant that I did not get a free checked bag. This is really the only real difference between the two fare types.
Arrival at Heathrow
I was connecting to my British Airways A380 World Traveller basic long-haul flight from Barcelona on another British Airways flight. We arrived slightly late, which meant I had to go tearing through Heathrow, desperately trying to make my fairly tight connection. We were also without catering on that A320 basic economy experience, so I really wanted to grab a bite to eat.
It took me until 2:00 PM to arrive at Terminal on the bus. This was a mere five minutes prior to scheduled boarding time. The problem is, you have to clear security again.
This went smoother than expected, and I had just enough time to grab a sandwich before joining the Group 3 line, which had just started boarding. I was able to put my Oneworld Ruby status to use again, boarding in an earlier group than most economy passengers. Per Trent, The Flight Detective, British Airways is likely the only carrier that offers priority boarding benefits to Oneworld Ruby members. It’s not a published perk.
Boarding and Departure
British Airways welcomed us on board by relaxing classical music and dim lighting. The lighting was poor enough to make it difficult to get decent photos with my phone. But I snapped a couple of the cabin late in the boarding process.
It was nice to get settled before the onslaught of people making their way to the back economy cabin of the A380. I’m always in awe of this gigantic aircraft. The cabin is so spacious, and it’s incredible that there are two complete floors.
I’ve flown both upper and lower cabin on the A380 on other occasions, but this was my first time with British Airways. Some carrier put their entire business class cabin on the upper deck, with the main deck reserved for primarily economy. British Airways has an interesting mix on each deck, with First, Club World, and World Traveller on the main deck, and Club World, World Traveller Plus, and World Traveller on the upper deck.
I’d hoped that I’d end up with a seat or two next to me, but the back of the cabin filled up until all but two seats were occupied. The gentleman in front of me was re-seated in a bulkhead seat, which was a major plus for him, as he was roughly 6-foot-four.
The captain provided a full rundown on the route we’d be taking, noting each country and/or landmark we’d be passing. The flight time from London to San Francisco was estimated at 10 hours and 20 minutes. We’d take a very northerly route.
Our A380 didn’t push back until 3:35, over a half hour late. The delay was due to a luggage conveyor malfunction from what I understood, plus the difficulty of loading the bags in the rain. This made me even more glad I hadn’t checked my bag. Plus, checking a bag on a British Airways World Traveller basic fare comes with a steep fee.
The safety video was a highlight. It’s rare that I can say that about any carrier, but British Airways manages to make it both humorous and chock full of famous British celebrities. It features Michael Cain and Ian McKellan, among others. It’s perfect. Definitely the best safety video I’ve ever seen.
British Airways A380 Economy Seat
British Airways A380 economy offers a fairly typical long haul seat with reasonable padding and 31 inches of pitch. Although flying on the upper deck may sound appealing, I’m fairly sure that the upstairs seats aren’t as wide as the economy seats on the lower deck. At over 18 inches wide, they offer a reasonable amount of room.
I was seated in 38H, an aisle seat in the rear section on the lower deck. I had not opted to select my seat ahead of time, as British Airways charges a fee. The aisle seat assignment was welcome. While I generally prefer a window for the view, being able to get up without disturbing anyone on a long-haul flight is my preference these days.
For the first time I can recall, I accidentally sat in the wrong seat. It was embarrassing to realize most of the way through boarding that I had parked my rear in 38G, right across the aisle from where I was supposed to be.
After moving across the aisle, I really hoped that the aircraft would be fairly empty and the window and middle seat would remain unoccupied. No such luck.
The seat pitch is standard for long-haul, and I had plenty of knee room. The area for your feet at the aisle seat is fairly narrow, but the upside is that you can stretch your legs into the aisle. British Airways A380 World Traveller seats do not offer footrests. This was my favorite feature of Air France A380 economy, which helped it stand out a bit.
I was glad that I didn’t select a window seat for this flight. The IFE box takes up a significant amount of the foot space. Your feet are pushed toward those of the person in the middle seat.
Each World Traveller economy seat has an headrest that adjust up and down. They are designed to cradle your head, but the “wings” do not adjust horizontally. I prefer the type that fold in and cradle your head more closely.
At each seat were the typical pillow, blanket and headphones for a long-haul flight. I used the pillow more for lumbar support than anything, as I couldn’t ever get comfortable trying to use it with the headrest.
The in-flight entertainment system is touch screen, but British Airways also offers an IFE controller. Next to this is a USB outlet for charging your small devices. There are universal power outlets under the seats for your laptop. Flying long-haul without power in this day and age would be rough.
The tray table is a fold out design that lets you use it in either half or full configuration.
You might think that all long-haul economy seats are the same. This is true on the surface, as most offer roughly the same amount of space. However, there are subtle differences between products, such as as the overly firm cushion noted in Xiamen Air 787-9 economy, or the presence of a footrest in Air France A380 economy.
I find the British Airways A380 economy seat to be reasonably comfortable, with decent recline for a long-haul product and sufficient padding. It isn’t the best economy seat I’ve enjoyed, but I consider it on the better end of the spectrum. I’d certainly opt for an aisle seat on the lower deck like I did, as these offer greater width and you avoid the awkwardly placed under-seat IFE server.
British Airways Economy Meal Service
There were no menus at the seat nor passed out early on in the flight. I find it nice that some carriers offer you a menu even in economy, giving you a heads up as to what is offered. The economy meal service started about 45 minutes after takeoff with pretzels and drinks. Sparkling wine is my go-to these days, and I thought the one offered by British Airways was delicious.
Dinner wasn’t served until about 45 minutes later. There were two options: tandoori chicken with basmati rice or pasta. As Indian food is about as British as you can get, this seemed the better choice.
The sides were a couscous salad, bread, “crunch nuts”, and a chocolate and seaside salt pudding along with cheese and crackers. Overall, I was fairly impressed by the economy class meal. Everything tasted quite good.
The one annoyance was that the tray kept trying to slide off the tray table. There was a very light amount of turbulence at this point. I hate to think what things would be like if it was even more choppy. British Airways needs to rethink their tray material.
Flight attendants returned offering coffee and tea service after dinner. I opted for tea, although there are reasons why you may want to pass on both. Trays picked up around 18:30 London time, about 2.5 hours after we’d departed Heathrow.
British Airways A380 economy seats feature 9-inch IFE screens. They are not the newest nor largest for an economy product, but they certainly beat the screens you can still find on old aircraft like Delta’s 767s or Alitalia’s long haul fleet. The British Airways IFE can be used either as a touch screen or with the controller provided.
The in-flight entertainment options are reasonably extensive, with over 160 movie titles offered. There is a mix of blockbuster Hollywood films, some eastern cinema, and of course some classic British films, such as Sense and Sensibility and Shakespeare in Love. Some notable surprises (in my opinion) among the older films included Little Shop of Horrors and The Quiet Man.
There are a decent number of family films. The IFE has a Disney section, and there are a dozen options including several Pixar movies. Beyond the family titles, there are plenty of games for the kids. You can of course also turn on the flight tracker.
Even though the headphones provided are cheap, both left and right headphone channels worked. Half the time the cheap headphones airlines give you seem to only provide low-quality sound to one ear. On a noisy aircraft, this is less than ideal. These days, I’ve taken to bringing my wired Bose noise-canceling headphones.
One final note on the screens: they don’t allow you to easily see what the person next to you is watching, which is nice.
This British Airways did not offer WiFi. My understanding is that they have added WiFi to their long-haul fleet, including their Airbus A380s, but there was no signal. Either this Airbus hasn’t been configured yet, or it was disabled.
Since I was returning from Europe, I opted to try to power through and stay awake the entire flight. Only being gone couple days meant that I wouldn’t really be adjusted to Europe time anyway. I wasn’t quite successful, as I finally decided to nap for an hour.
The economy seats have a reasonable amount of recline, but as I mentioned before, I’m not fond of the headrest design. It was hard to find a position where my neck wouldn’t become uncomfortable after just 10 minutes. Head and neck comfort is always the biggest issue trying to sleep in economy, at least for me. My neck gets stiff in no time at all. I unfortunately forgot my Trtl Travel Pillow.
About four hours into the flight, we hit moderate turbulence. The cabin was kept dark so folks could sleep, and the FAs made their checks with flashlights. Half an hour later they served ice cream to everyone in the dark.
I did have a chat with the lady behind me. She had constant “restless leg syndrome” and kept vibrating my seat, as her knee was pushed up against it. She finally found a position that was comfortable that didn’t constantly jostle me but didn’t seem happy that when I asked her to stop shaking the seat.
Late in the flight I got up and walked for a while. I wanted to head up to the upper deck via the back staircase, but there was a gate in place to prevent traffic up the stairs. I checked an hour later, and it was still there. My guess is British Airways keeps this in place, which is a bummer.
The crew were attentive to the lavatories, keeping them clean through the trip. Airplane bathrooms are already fairly gross due to the cramped quarters, and if not kept clean, they are really gross.
Second Service and Arrival into SFO
The second meal service was served with a little less than two hours left in our flight. It was a substantial step down from the first meal service, with a pizza stick as the main offering. The first meal gets good marks. I wish I could have passed on this one, but I was quite hungry at this point.
The crew were friendly and pleasant during the whole flight, cheerfully serving meals and drinks.
As expected, we made up some time along the way, landing at 6:20 PM. It was very nice to have Global Entry, as most of a full A380 had already entered the immigration queue. Even so, there was a line for the GE kiosks, but I still managed to make it all the way through in 15 minutes.
Transatlantic World Traveller Basic: The Verdict
British Airways A380 World Traveller basic is a fine way to cross the Atlantic, and one that I would happily repeat. If you do not need a checked bag, the savings on the ticket are worth it. The seats are reasonably comfortable, the IFE options sufficient, and the crew pleasant. The food service was a mixed bag, roughly average for long-haul economy travel. I’ve had both better and worse.
The return segment of this itinerary is coming up this spring, this time on one of British Airways’ iconic Boeing 747-400 aircraft. Hopefully the experience is at least as good!