Sunday, 21 October 2007

British Airways, Club World, London Heathrow to New York JFK

The security queues at Heathrow's Terminal 4 aren't too bad, so you will soon be in one of the wicker chairs or armchairs admiring the water feature in BA's crowded, but slightly funky, Pavilion Lounge. On offer is a wide range of drinks, soup, bread rolls, ham, cheeses, salads, noodles and other snacks. There is also BT Openzone WiFi, a respectable range of magazines and newspapers and free use of computer terminals, but the Internet access on these can be very slow. On the plane, you get one of a pair of seats, which face in opposite directions, so some passengers disconcertingly take off backwards. For privacy, you can raise a frosted glass screen between the two seats and this unusual design means you can get in and out of your window seat without disturbing anyone. There is just about enough length and width to ensure you can get some sleep. You are given a washbag-come-wallet with toothpaste, face cream, socks and other bits and pieces. And there are even pictures in the toilets.

The in-flight meals are served with white linen napkins and restrained, stylish packaging, with an emphasis on detail and the unusual. The after-lunch chocolates, for example, are three marble-sized spheres, called House Truffle, Earl Grey Pearl and Liquid Salted Caramel, mounted on a cardboard rack and stored in a small cardboard box. To accompany the meal, you can choose from champagne, two white wines or two red wines and there is a reasonable selection of starters, main courses and deserts. To start, the Asian crab meat, served with prawn mayonnaise and mushrooms, is cold, crisp and impeccable, but the accompanying salad needs enlivening with a spicy lemon dressing. Next up, the prawn bhuna masala with coconut and curry leaf rice is very hot and spicy, to a point where the flavours are obscured, and a little overcooked. But the accompanying rice is good. And for desert, you can have an intense, rich chocolate moose with liquid chocolate oozing from its core. To read, there is BA's High-Life magazine, which is well-written and mostly free of corporate spin - BA even lets guest editor Michael Palin plug train journeys. And the magazine's travel photography is exceptional. Or you can choose from a big selection of films and TV programmes, but the on-demand system doesn't always function properly.

When you get to JFK, move fast to get to the front of the slow-moving immigration queues. For the return leg, if you are lucky, you might get a free upgrade to first class. The BA lounges in New York are similar to the ones at Heathrow, but there are fewer magazines and the food is more limited and less appetizing. In the first class cabin, you get your own individual booth, more space, more pampering and a broader selection of food and wine. But if you are on an overnight flight, which is too short to get a full night's sleep, you will be more interested in the reasonably-comfortable and nearly-flat bed (the head rest doesn't quite go all the way down). You should be able to get some shuteye, but inevitably your rest is topped and tailed by the safety-procedures and in-flight service. When you get to Terminal 4, the long walk to passport control should help shake off any grogginess. 7/10