A friend of mine had to fly from London to Sydney in April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. British Airways operated the flights to help people to get where they need to be. Enjoy this report on Club World or business class, hot off the presses!
Guest post by Adam Beaufort.
I feel like I need to start with a small disclaimer. This is in no way a review or reflection of the quality of the typical British Airway’s product or service. I fly BA often, and on the whole am very satisfied with the quality of the service I receive. However, for what is sold as a £4,000 Club World experience (or 150,000 Avios points), it was nothing short of Ryanair in a flat bed.
I had originally planned to fly on the BA15 LHR to SYD in May. After the announcement that the route would be temporarily suspended from the 7th April I made the last-minute decision to move things a bit earlier. It’s hard to imagine that only a month ago there were over 50 carriers all competing for capacity on the iconic Kangaroo Route. Today only Qatar remains, for the purpose of repatriation.
Arriving At An Empty Terminal 5
Arriving at Heathrow, my expectations of a ghostly and deserted airport did not disappoint. Normally at 7:00pm, Terminal 5 would be in the peak of widebody traffic, with A380s going out to Hong Kong and Johannesburg, plus the ten or so 777/787s. A quick look at the departure board told me the BA15 was tonight’s only operating flight.
After whizzing through security (no surprise there), I had little else to do except wander aimlessly around the empty terminal, imagining myself in a sort of mashup between ’28 Day Later’ and ‘Up in the Air’.
The lounges were all, of course, completely closed, and the one and only shop open was Boots. Having been pre-warned about the impending onboard catering, I stocked up on a few of Boots’ finest sandwiches. Every single one was reduced to 50p.
I was slightly disappointed when I got to the gate, as I had optimistically hoped to see a few homemade Ned Kelly style PPE kits adorning my fellow passengers, currently trending Twitter.
BA15 – London Heathrow to Sydney via Singapore (LHR-SIN-SYD)
Boeing 777-300ER – G-STBA
Seat: Club World 12A
Departure: 21:30 Arrival: 05:10+1
The boarding process was very simple, with passengers respectfully monitoring their own 2 metre spacing on the airbridge without the need for adult supervision or hazard-tape floor marking.
The Onboard Experience
My partner and I had 12A and 12B, though we could have taken our pick of virtually any of the Club seats. There were only about 30 passengers in total. Four in Club, four in World Traveller Plus and 20 or so in World Traveller. I remember a former Flight Attendant telling me the required ratio of Cabin Crew to passengers should be 1:50. A quick calculation put our flight at 1:2. The First Class cabin had been roped off, with the CSD informing me it was being used for Crew Rest.
A quick introduction from the cabin crew gave us some pretty disappointing insights into what our journey would entail. First and foremost – there would be no service trolley, and no service of alcohol. At all. Apparently, the service of alcohol creates a risky level of proximity between passengers and cabin crew. I couldn’t help feeling that there was a cost-saving element behind this decision by BA.
Second, we would not be allowed to disembark when we arrived in Singapore. We must remain on the aircraft, increasing the onboard time to a total of 22 glorious hours.
And third, the food for the journey had been specially prepared in advance and packaged hygienically. I’m sorry, but no gourmet menu should include the adjective ‘hygienically’. And it would be the same service regardless of cabin class.
Dinner On Board
After take-off, we treated ourselves to an orange juice and a sparkling mineral water (because YOLO) and received dinner. Dinner comprised of a chicken tikka wrap, a dairy milk, a small packet of lemon biscuits, and a bottle of water.
Given that normally at this point one would be tucking into a Do&Co appetiser, with either a second glass of Besserat de Bellefon Champagne or perhaps a G&T, the experience was overwhelmingly average.
The cabin crew did their best to keep our glasses topped up, but honestly there are only so many orange juices I can get through. The coffee served after ‘dinner’ was in the typical half-portion sized “This drink is hot” cardboard cup. I am normally a big fan of the Union Roast served in Club, and even drink it at home – but I am 99% sure this was a cheap or instant substitute.
Making the bed was expediated by the fact that British Airways have removed all the bedding, except for the pillow and the duvet. The White Company mattress topper, as well as the blanket, have both been omitted. Incidentally a good friend of mine continues to refuse the mattress topper, considering it a ‘waste of time’. I just cannot understand how that’s the case on 15 hour flight. We continue to agree to disagree.
Some other notables – all the High Life magazines have been removed from the cabin. This annoyed me slightly as it’s my go-to reading for the long taxi to Heathrow’s 27 facing runway. I also noticed that the onboard inflight entertainment had been dramatically reduced. I only counted about 20 films in total across all the categories. A few were returning titles I had also seen in January.
Breakfast And “Hello” Singapore
For breakfast, we were told that there would be a little ‘treat’. Since I wasn’t holding my breath, I was not too disappointed when a microwaved pizza arrived. It wasn’t actually too bad.
However it is the kind of thing I would normally associate with a €6 price tag on a Ryanair flight. The experience was further jaded when I popped my head into the galley and saw everyone was eating a full cooked English…
The Singapore layover was relatively dull, as we were confined to our seats with no lounge to relax in. The turnaround took approximately two hours, during which a single passenger embarked. We commenced our final leg to Sydney with the fresh crew.
Dinner time again, this time a chicken roll and a KitKat. The only notable difference from the previous leg was this one came in a slightly fancier plastic bag (with drawstring).
Disembarkation and Quarantine
Australia is currently enforcing strict quarantine protocols for international arrivals. Everyone is required to spend 14 days in isolation in a government supplied hotel. As we disembarked off the airbridge, we were guided through a series of corridors to where a ‘pop-up’ health screening assessment was to be undertaken.
Anyone showing a high temperature or symptoms of COVID-19 would then need to have a swab taken. Instead of going through the usual eGates for the border, the Border Force officers came out to us in full PPE and performed individual face-to-face passport checks.
Duty-Free was, unfortunately, very much closed. From there, we were escorted to where minibuses were waiting to take us to our designated hotels, and our luggage would follow on after (for us, this was 2 days later…)
Despite media coverage of previous passengers being quarantined in the Hilton and the Shangri-La, our final destination would be a rooms-by-the-hour hotel in downtown Chippendale. But that’s another review all together.
Like I said at the start, this is not a reflection of British Airways’ typical product or service. The big ‘however’, though, is that British Airways are still selling all four classes at their usual prices, with a Club seat to Sydney priced at around £4,000, and First Class at £7,000. I spoke to a fellow passenger from Economy who had asked about the price of an upgrade to Club at check-in and was told it was over £2,000 per passenger, despite the cabin being virtually empty.
There is no variation in food between cabins, no alcohol service and no lounge access. The only difference was a seat versus a flat bed. I am completely at a loss as to how British Airways are maintaining a premium fare but without maintaining any premium onboard products. Even considering the loss of exclusivity, I couldn’t help feeling it would make more sense to move all the passengers into the Club cabin and use the whole situation as a marketing tool for the flat bed experience.
Thank you all for reading a rare report of a flight during the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you enjoyed this guest post, and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.
Featured image by Mark Harkin via Wikimedia Commons.