Is British Airways’ short-haul Club Europe offering good value?

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Tim Firmager

Tim divides his time being a Digital Consultant in The City and as a food and travel writer across the globe. When he's not working as one of the Lifestyle Editors here at Vada, he's planning his next trip, or on the lookout for the latest food crazes or unusual foods in London's markets.
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British Airways, headquartered just outside of London, is the UK’s largest airline. It’s known for its premium service, offering sophistication a cut above the budget airlines operating around Europe. We at Vada Magazine discover what it’s really like to travel in their Club Europe cabin – BA’s term for business-class travel across Europe – and give you the information you need to decide whether it’s worth shelling out that extra cash for a better class.

At the airport

Once you’ve bought your ticket, like all other passengers on the plane, you’ll need to wait until 24 hours before your flight before you can choose your seat for free and check in. You do have the option to pay to reserve your seat in advance (a privilege which is free to Bronze, Silver and Gold members of BA’s Executive Club). Personally, for a European flight, I haven’t found a need to pay in advance and reserving a seat as soon as check-in opens is usually fine. After all, it’s not like you’re not going to get a seat in Club Europe if you’ve paid for it (assuming the flight isn’t over subscribed – but that’s an issue for a whole different article).

At the airport – the bigger ones at least – you’ll find a lane marked Priority/Club Europe/World, which should save you the hassle of queuing for what feels like an eternity to drop any checked-bags and pick up a copy of your paper ticket (if you don’t already have it on your mobile).

Speaking of bags, travelling in Club Europe more than doubles your free baggage allowance to 2 x 32kg bags per person. If you’re one of these people that can’t travel without an extensive beauty product range and enough clothes for ten outfit changes a day, then this will be a great benefit.

Once you’re free of bags, the next hurdle is airport security. Again at larger airports, there will be a ‘fast track’ gate – if you’re departing from Heathrow Terminal 5 (dedicated to BA), for example. This usually means you skip the queue and go straight to the security man who checks all your liquids are under 100ml and that your iPad is not still hidden inside a bag somewhere. If you’re running late, which has happened to me on occasion (nothing to do with sleeping through the alarm, of course), this is quite a handy perk.

Lounges

The biggest benefit inside the airport is access to the British Airways Terraces lounges. Airport lounges become the norm to frequent travellers like myself, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, I’d recommend that you aim to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight so that you have sufficient time to appreciate it. Lounge amenities differ with each location, but in all you’ll find a tranquil environment away from the hustle and bustle of the airport. The Terraces lounges are British Airways’ business offering (and they have superior lounges for First travellers and Gold Executive Club members). These are luxurious havens of tranquility, and are comfortable and well-stocked with a variety of goodies to keep you relaxed and in good spirits (quite literally).

Complimentary newspapers, food and even drinks are available for you to help yourself whenever you want. Despite several requests, BA haven’t yet replaced one of the brands of gin for my all-time favourite (Hendricks), but they do at least have stock a variety of premium spirits and wines. On the odd occasion they may appear to be running low of your favourite tipple, don’t be afraid to ask the staff to provide more as that’s what they’re there for. Don’t be a diva though by demanding a ridiculous champagne brand, because you won’t get it. More importantly, you should remember this is a British Airways lounge, not Beyoncé’s dressing room. Decorum at all times, please.

Menu availability depends on the time of day you’re there – with croissants and continental offerings for breakfast, a range of soups and sandwiches for lunch, etc. Generally speaking, it’s enough to get a decent meal – and don’t forget, you’ll receive a full meal service on your flight in any case.

There is often at-seat power options to charge your gadgets for free – so you’ll be fully-juiced to tweet about your holiday to your heart’s content.

If you’re on a connecting flight or just need to freshen up, the benefit of showers will also appeal – just ask at the lounge reception. British Airways use Elemis Spa products in their lounges, which are known for using bold botanicals that leave you feeling and smelling pampered.

On board

As a Club Europe passenger you will one of the first to board the plane. Although on the face of it this doesn’t seem such a luxurious perk, as all BA flights have allocated seating, it does mean that you can stow your hand luggage, grab your book and music player of choice and be settled by the time cattle class board. There’s no ‘turning left’ – this is not a long haul flight – but your cabin will be separated by a curtain, and if you’re lucky a bulkhead – meaning World Traveller won’t be tempted to steal the Elemis Spa products in your on-board toilet.

Seating in Club Europe is a contentious issue. You are always located at the front of the plane, and depending on the flight, this can be the first three to the first 12 rows. You do get more legroom (30”) than in economy and you’re guaranteed an aisle or window seat.

Begin point of contention: BA typically have a 3-2 layout on European flights, meaning there are 2 sets of 3 seats, with one aisle in the middle. In the Club Europe section, the middle seat is permanently converted into a table. Whilst this is handy, we can’t help but wonder if a better use of space would be to make a different type of seat for Club Europe, perhaps wider and even comfier. Once you’ve had your fill of food and champagne, it would then be much easier to doze (although, admittedly, not for very long given the length of European flights).

One of the unseen privileges of Club Europe is the difference in meal service onboard. All flights offer a meal service and champagne (upon request) except domestic flights (and flights to Jersey). Whether it be 8am or 8pm you can order bottles of Heidsieck Monopole (not ‘Bolly’ – Eddy and Patsy would have to make do!) to your heart’s content.

The meal service is much more than the lunch-box affair in economy, it’s actually like eating on the ground – food is served on plates with stainless steel cutlery, and glasses made of glass! Sarcasm aside, whilst no airplane can boast Michelin-starred food, British Airways have curated an excellent menu, and if your flight is mid-afternoon, you can indulge in the afternoon tea offering!

Baggage

With checked bags in the hold, we’ve found no difference in service other than your bag is marked with a fluorescent orange ‘priority’ label. This tag doesn’t affect whether your bag arrives first on the baggage conveyor – in fact, our bags are sometimes the last off! Definitely plenty of room for improvement here, BA.

Overall

The small touches and personal service that you receive are a great way to start off a holiday – you’re made to feel valued and the BA’s staff help you relax, rather than leaving you to feel you’re another sardine crammed into a tin can.

There is definitely room for improvement though – comfier seats with better recline on board, and definitely an improvement with baggage handling.

On some routes Club Europe can be rather over-priced, so our advice is to book as far in advance as you can and out of season – we’ve found long weekend city breaks (flying Club Europe and a four-star hotel) for approximately £350 per person. It’s great as a surprise for your better half for an anniversary or birthday present. However, it is said that once you fly in a higher class it’s very hard to go back to economy, so don’t get too attached if you’re just trying it for a ‘one-off’ – that’s how I got hooked.

Overall, we’d rate the Club Europe offering 4 out 5. Good work, BA!

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