British Airways stunned the world by introducing the world's first flat bed in Business Class in 2000. Many predicted this would hurt British Airways - why would anyone fly in First? Well there is plenty of room for additional luxury to be provided beyond a flat bed, as we have seen in the years since; with airlines like Singapore and Emirates raising the stakes by walling off their First Class passengers in completely private suites.
The Club World product received a refresh in 2006, which replaced a fabric-and-wood patina with lighter and more durable plastics, but the layout and proportions remained basically unchanged. It was such a revolutionary leap forward that it left every other Business Class product behind for years.
Today British Airways' yin-and-yang Club World layout has, two decades after it was introduced, become outdated; with the introduction of the Airbus A350, British Airways unveiled a new Club World product.
I flew with British Airways to London from Los Angeles in end of January. (Who would've thought that would be my last BA 747 flight?)
After a typical British Airways welcome, I settled into my rear-facing window seat 14K on the lower deck. I chose this seat because it has the best view of those RB-211 engines on the forward edge of the 747 wing.
Seat 14K is a backward facing seat. Not only does flying backwards take absolutely no time at all to get used to, but, for the enthusiast, gives a rare view that is hard to find elsewhere; looking rearwards at the wing, drooping with the weight of all the fuel needed for the long flight to London, and looking directly into the engines (which are Rolls-Royce Trents, only ever installed on 747s of British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand).
Watch the gorgeous B747 takeoff in the video:
We climbed out through a thin so-called 'marine layer' of fog into the evening sunshine and, after a sweeping right turn, headed northeast towards Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Canada on our Great Circle track on the polar route to London. I went to the galley, at the invitation of the cabin crew, and chatted about how much they love the 747. "We call it the Queen Of The Skies" they told me,
"The 747 - it epitomises mass travel. This is the way to travel. We try to make all our guests feel special, from newborn babies to the most frequent flyers, and for us, it's a total honour to be on this plane. Such a solid workhorse for us. The crew love them, our customers love them as well".
The classic British Airways Club World flat bed product is configured in pairs, with one wide seat facing one way next to the legs of the other passenger who flies backwards. One drawback is that during takeoff and landing, the privacy screen between the two seats is lowered so you are, albeit at an angle, facing a stranger. Also, the high density achieved leaves almost no storage space beyond a small drawer under the feet.
A small advantage, compared to the reverse herringbone, is that there is nothing above your feet, which are not in a foot-well underneath the seat in front of you.
The 747 I was flying on was one of the sub-fleet of low density machines; with 86 Business Class seats, 20 in the upper deck and 66 on the main deck, stretching all the way back to the trailing edge of the wing, leaving just 14 rows of Economy in the rearmost cabin. This flight was not full, so I could try different seats. The aisle seats face forward and the middle pairs face rearwards.
Dinner was not bad, a rare roast beef starter and a gnocci with salmon main. British Airways, who have never been famous for their food, have definitely improved their premium cabin offering in recent years, with catering provided by Do & Co and upgraded bedding from the White Company, which includes a comforter and an extra blanket.
I slept well for five hours, waking up to this gorgeous view with just 90 minutes remaining to London.
The crew brought me a classic English mixed grill breakfast, which I enjoyed with a cup of tea and that beautiful wing-and-engine view.
Weather wasn't at its best on this cold January day, we flew over London City on a typical Westerly runway arrival.
After a soft touchdown by British Airways' famously skilled pilots, I was thanked by the friendly (albeit camera-shy) crew for flying their 747 and disembarked into Heathrow's Terminal 5. I quickly headed for the British Airways arrivals lounge, an impressive facility for their many premium cabin transit passengers, to freshen up with a shower and enjoy the generous breakfast spread; which included an English staple, black pudding. I was grateful for the opportunity to get a massage to combat the jet-lag and prepare me for my onward journey.
It was a memorable transatlantic trip and it was nice to fly with an airline that clearly love the 747 Jumbo as much as I do.