More space, more privacy, more posh – that’s the recipe for British Airways’ new Club Suites business class, which will begin flying from August 2019 on the airline’s factory-fresh Airbus A350 jets, with Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s to follow.
(Somewhat confusingly, BA is retaining Club World as its overall business class branding but using Club Suites to identify this specific seat.)
Hitting the suite spot
Gone is the crowded dormitory-like cabin of British Airways’ current Club World business class, as well as the novel but sometimes awkward forwards-backwards seating layout.
The new business class Club Suites boast their own sliding doors – something that even BA’s first class suites lack – for near-total privacy in travel and leisure.
Such doors remain a rare touch in business class travel, seen only on Qatar Airways’ superb Qsuite and Delta Air Lines’ Delta One Suite for Leisure and China Eastern’s latest business class.
And these ‘suites’ look the part: under the practised eye of British Airways’ Design Lead Peter Cook they’ve been dressed in a sophisticated palette of warm silver, grey and charcoal, with an inset woodgrain-patterned panel running along the side of the console plus trim in BA’s almost-signature bright anodised silver.
At 21 inches wide, the amply-padded Club Suite seat – which is finished in a quilted pattern and features a racing-style ‘three-point’ harness – offers an extra inch over the current Club World for your leisure in travel; travellers can lower the leather-clad armrest next to the seat to gain several more inches of useable space.
Customised, but not bespoke
The Club Suite itself is based on the Collins Aerospace Super Diamond platform (seen below in its catalogue ‘showcase’ form), manufactured in Northern Ireland and customised by British Airways’ in-house design team .
Here is Collins Aerospace’s Super Diamond business class seat in its standard (but ‘dressed to impress’) form.
If the Club Suite seems familiar, that’s with good reason: the Super Diamond is also flown by Virgin Australia, American Airlines, Air Canada and Canada’s WestJet, China Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, KLM and Qatar Airways.
WestJet’s Boeing 787 ‘Super Diamond’ business class
Virgin Australia’s Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 ‘Super Diamond’ business class
Adopting the Super Diamond means British Airways is moving to the industry-standard 1-2-1 seating arrangement which gives every passenger direct access to the aisle.
All passengers now face forward, rather than the mixed forward-backward arrangement of today’s Club World (below).
Even if you’ve experienced the Super Diamond business class seat of another airline, you’ll notice some considerate tweaks made by the BA design team.
For example, the seat shell surrounding the passenger as well as the inside of the sliding door are lined with a soft noise-reducing material to help the transformation from seat to cocoon, while the tray table beneath the monitor is tucked away rather than protruding as much as on other versions of the same seat.
The Club Suite is the third generation of BA’s lie-flat Club World business class, which debuted in 2000 (below) and was reworked for the long-lived 2006-2019 product.
The original lie-flat Club World seat: can Club Suites repeat the revolution?
In choosing to adapt an ‘off the shelf’ seat, British Airways has changed tack from its previous strategy of creating a bespoke business class seat from the ground up – which for a time included this leaked Club Work Mk III design, which updated the Club World 2006 concept.
BA’s Club World Mk III design never made it past concept stage
British Airways began circling in on the Super Diamond in early 2017, after deciding that the triple-threat pressures of competition, cost and delivery weighted against a fully custom-built business class product.
Inside the Club Suites cabin
British Airways wants its new business class cabin to be as swish as the seats, so expect a subdued colour scheme which picks up the same key colours, accented by warm LED lighting which changes throughout the flight.
The first aircraft to sport the Club Suites will be BA’s Airbus A350-1000s, with 56 business class berths spread across two cabins (one with 11 rows and 44 seats, the other with just three rows of 12 seats) and the self-serve Club Kitchen stocked with snacks and drinks.
Behind this are 56 premium economy pews featuring BA’s 2018 World Traveller Plus seat, and 219 economy seats stretching to the back of the (Air)bus.
Club Suites at the windows – the A and K seats – are steeply angled towards the view while those in the middle of the aircraft (D and G seats) tilt more gently towards the centre, in the same orientation as seen in this Virgin Australia Super Diamond business class cabin below.
A divider between the paired middle Club Suites slides back for sociability if you want to easily chat with a partner or friend – or keep it closed if you’re flying solo.
Club Suite seats lower themselves into a 79” (2 metre) flat bed and include BA’s latest ‘sleep service’ products from The White Company including a mattress cover, duvet and woven blanket.
One trade-off in the Club Suite’s modular shape is that passengers will have to swap the ‘open bed’ design of today’s Club World for a more constrained enclosed footwell at the end of the bed, which is tucked under your monitor and the shelf of the passenger in front of you.
Based on our experience with other Super Diamond seats such as Virgin Australia’s business class, there should be ample space for even plus-sized pods – although don’t expect much wiggle-room to cross your feet at the ankles, for example.
A touchscreen controller just below the console shelf includes pre-set seating positions for snoozing, lounging and landing.
There’s a slight incline in what would usually be considered the ‘upright’ position, which is immediately more relaxing than actually sitting bolt upright; you can also kick back into a more leisurely ‘Z-bed mode’, go all the way to a fully-flat 2m bed, or find your own sweet spot anywhere between.
Space, the final frontier…
The Club Suites boast a riot of real estate – remedying one of the most bothersome shortcomings of the Club World seat it replaces.
Home base is the large flat shelf next to each passenger: ideal for spreading out your stuff.
The Club Suite puts plenty of storage close at hand, which is right where you need it
This surface also contains two concealed panels. The smaller one flips open to reveal a remote for the seatback video screen, while the longer one – above the seat controller – covers a recessed pocket for oddments such as your smartphone and reading glasses.
That nook is also where you’ll find an AC socket plus two USB ports (one high-power, one standard-voltage) plus the three-pin headphone jack. A slight gap between the lid and the surrounding panel lets you run cables out to your tech yet close the hatch without pinching or snagging the cord, so that the entire surface of the table remains useful.
Another cubbyhole is tucked away in the vertical wall above this shelf, at shoulder-height to each passenger – here, a swing-out panel reveals room for your amenity kit and, mounted on the inside of the door, a small LED-lit mirror.
A recess below the footwell ottoman provides space for your shoes and is also used to store the bedding kit at take-off and landing.
Turning the Club Suite into your office suite
Take all that personal space, add a height-adjustable table large enough for a 17 inch laptop and log onto the inflight WiFi and the Club Suite becomes a sky-high office suite.
Each of the new Airbus A350s will also come equipped with satellite Internet, as will most of BA’s long-range international fleet by the end of 2020.
The basic Browse package – suitable for web, email, messaging and social media – starts from £4.99 for one hour, £10.99 for four hours or £14.99 for a ‘flight pass’ to stay online for the length of your entire journey.
If more speed is what you need, the faster Stream service begins at £7.99 for one hour, with four hours priced at £17.99 and a flight pass at £23.99.
After a dozen years putting up with the Club World seat’s tiny 10.4 screen, upgrading to Club Suites’ 18.5-inch high definition monitor is like jumping from a boxy 1970s telly to a slick wall-mounted flatscreen.
Having the main display fitted into the seat module means it doesn’t need to be switched off during taxi, take-off and landing – you can begin your video bingefest the moment you step on board, and catch the last few minutes of that boxed set marathon as the aircraft lands and pulls up to the gate.
However, some Club Suites destined for other aircraft types in the BA fleet will be decked out with smaller screens – down to 17 inches – presumably due to the differing cabin widths of particular jets.
Room for improvement?
While the new Club World Suite is a superlative seat, British Airways didn’t tick every box.
Some travellers will note the lack of a Do Not Disturb indicator on the outside of the suite, while others will suggest there should be a modern USB-C port alongside the popular USB-A socket.
But it would be churlish to suggest these seriously detract from what is easily the biggest upgrade to BA’s business class experience since the airline introduced the lie-flat business class bed in 2000.
BA’s original flat-bed Club World of 2000: how far we’ve come!
Flying BA’s new Club Suites business class
So when can BA passengers expect to experience the new Club Suite?
They’ll debut on the airline’s also-new Airbus A350-1000 jets, the first of which is due for delivery in July.
Across August and September it will begin short-hop ‘familiarisation’ runs on one of BA’s handful of daily flights between London Heathrow and Madrid (British Airways has yet to announce which flight will get the shiny bird).
October 1 will see the A350 move onto the London-Toronto route as BA92/BA93, while a second A350 will take on London-Dubai as BA107/BA108 from October 8.
British Airways will pick up the keys to two more A350s across the back end of 2019, and there’ll still be 14 yet to come over the next few years.
2020 will also see the arrival of BA’s first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners – a dozen are due through to 2023 – sporting both the Club Suites in business class and eight first class suites in an updated design.
BA’s first class is also getting a nip-and-tuck for 2020
Finally, BA is embarking on a sweeping upgrade of its existing fleet, starting with a pair of Boeing 777-200 jets which will have their Club World seats ripped out and replaced by Club Suites in the fourth quarter of 2019.
British Airways is keeping its powder dry on which other aircraft will get the Club Suites, and when for that matter, although CEO Alex Cruz has described the staged process as being “a two-and-a-half to three-year rollout.”
Our information is that all Boeing 777s, Boeing 787s and Airbus A380s will eventually roll into the hangar for a Club Suite upgrade, except for the Boeing 747 jumbo jets which BA is putting out to pasture from 2020 in favour of the A350s, Boeing 787s and Boeing 777-9s.
British Airways’ new Club Suite is the capstone in a hefty £600m investment in international business class.
To date this has seen revamped inflight dining – including new menus and meals from Do&Co on services from London Heathrow – plus a vastly improved bedding kit (in partnership with The White Company) featuring a padded mattress cover, oversized pillows, a super-soft duvet and woven blanket with satin trim.
Now that there’s a luxe business class seat to match, British Airways is back in the race as a serious contender for business travellers. All that’s left is for somebody to cue up the Chariots of Fire theme…
This article originally appeared on Ausbt.com.au.