In the second instalment of this series, I’ll be concentrating on the in-flight experience when I travelled from London to Zagreb (and back) in British Airways Club Europe business last week.
Outbound flight: London to Zagreb
After a good experience on the ground, I boarded BA flight 0848 from London to Zagreb just before 9am (which was actually our stated time of departure).
The crew (wearing masks, of course) welcomed passengers onboard and handed out small personal protection packs containing anti-bacterial gel and wipes.
As we explained in our review of BA’s regular Club Europe service, business class passengers sit in exactly the same seat as those in economy - though there is a blocked middle seat.
Only passengers in row 1 (and the emergency exit rows in economy) get any extra leg room - though these are reserved for British Airways Executive Club gold members.
BA’s short haul Airbus aircraft feature a moveable cabin divider, allowing the airline to size up or down its business class section as required.
As a gold member, I was able to select seat 1F (a window seat) for my flight to Zagreb, operated by an Airbus A319. The six-row Club Europe cabin was just under half full, with nine out of 24 seats taken (including myself).
Magazines and shopping brochures etc have been removed - just the safety card and sickness bag remain in the seat pocket. Power is available in the foot area.
There was an announcement from the crew about coronavirus and passengers were asked to wash hands frequently, catch coughs and sneezes in tissues and dispose of the tissue immediately and avoid touching their face. We were also assured that the plane had been cleaned and sanitised prior to passengers boarding. Finally passengers were urged to press their call bell and raise a hand if they felt unwell.
We left the gate at 9.01am and advised the flight would take around one hour 50 minutes, with just a short taxi of around ten minutes to the runway. There was no pre departure service (drinks or hot towels).
We took off at 9.20am and there were more announcements about new arrangements while flying during the coronavirus epidemic.
Passengers were asked to stay in their seat as much as possible and not queue in the cabin and were reminded that it is compulsory to wear a mask or face covering at all times. We were told that pre-packed light refreshments would be served, and were invited to consume any food onboard that we’d brought with us.
The seatbelt signs came off at 9.25am and we were asked to fill in self declaration forms for the Croatian authorities, to be handed in to ground staff on arrival. This was soon corrected - completed forms must instead be handed back to cabin crew.
Chatting to a member of the cabin crew, it was clear just how bad the current situation is for British Airways. While short-haul operations are “getting busier”, long-haul remains “dire”. With around 60 flights a day to the US from Gatwick and Heathrow in “normal” times, BA is particularly impacted by the collapse in demand for lucrative transatlantic travel.
One bright spot (if you can call it that) is that flights from Hong Kong to London are “packed” every day, though I’ll pass no comment on why that might be the case…
Drinks service began, and I ordered champagne, which came in the form of a mini bottle by Nicolas Feuillatte (despite other changes, alcohol continues to be served in business class).
Unfortunately it wasn’t very chilled, and the crew had no ice (though ice has been reintroduced on long haul flights). I’m not a fan of room temperature champagne so I decided to take the champagne with me and have it at my hotel.
There was no choice of meal and printed menus have been removed. The current service on short Club Europe flights consists of a pre-packed cold meal box, prepared by renowned caterers Do&Co.
As always, the Do&co food was good, and I was quite happy with my cold breakfast containing a cheese and bacon roll, pot of fruit and a bircher muesli.
I was concerned that service might be impacted by efforts to minimise contact between cabin crew and passengers, but I was pleased to find that service was no different to normal and the cabin manager was happy to chat (though the curtain to the forward galley and bathroom remained drawn most of the flight.
My orange juice was topped up while I used the bathroom, which was a nice touch.
WiFi was available on board but I didn’t use it as I was happy to work offline on my mac. Pricing was as follows:
I worked for a while, enjoying the views of mountains and lakes on the way.
Before too long we began our descent into Zagreb and the crew informed us that de-boarding would be done in small groups, so we should remain in our seats until being called forward.
We landed at 12.02pm local time, around 20 minutes ahead of schedule. This time, business class passengers were called off first, and there was no queue for passport control, making the airport experience at Zagreb stress-free.
I would even go so far as to say that Zagreb airport might be one of the best in Europe - small, quiet, clean and modern - there’s nothing not to like.
Inbound flight: Zagreb to London
As mentioned, Zagreb airport is a breeze and I arrived exactly two hours prior to my 1.20pm flight to London. I had no bags to check, and this time I had downloaded a boarding pass to my mobile, so I headed straight to departures.
After self scanning my boarding pass, I made my way upstairs to security. There was a priority line, though it was roped off. This wasn’t a problem as, with just a couple of passengers before me, security took no more than a few minutes.
I was then off to the airport’s only lounge - a contract lounge called Primeclass which is used by the majority of airlines flying to Croatia. I noticed the British Airways logo on the board outside so I made way inside.
Unfortunately, BA had other ideas and I was denied entry - as the lounge “isn’t accepting British Airways customers due to the current situation”. Instead, I was asked to pay Euros 25 (USD 30) to enter. I noticed that passengers of other airlines were admitted, so I can only assume this is a penny-pinching move on BA’s part.
One could understand it if the lounge was closed, but when other airlines manage to treat their premium passengers properly, there’s no reason why British Airways shouldn’t do the same. After dithering for a while, I decided to pay the entry fee and send BA the bill.
The lounge was quiet, and nothing much to get excited about, so I spent about an hour over there.
Zagreb airport was pretty quiet when I was there so I was unable to snap many pics, other than the BA plane waiting to take me home.
Boarding began at 1pm - 20 minutes before departure - so I slipped on my mask and used the priority lane for business class passengers (this differed from boarding in London, where business class passengers were called forward last). There was nobody ahead of me, so I was soon in my seat.
Once again, personal protective equipment packs were handed to passengers during boarding.
On today’s Airbus A319 flight, the Club Europe cabin was exactly the same as on the way out, and I was again seated in 1F. It was a warm day and I appreciated that there were individual air vents at the seat.
The cabin crew advised that there was a light load on today’s flight, meaning passengers had to remain in their allocated seats during take off and landing in order to maintain the balance of the aircraft.
In business class, there were six rows and six passengers (including myself). The same assurances were given as regards to the cleanliness of the aircraft and customers were reminded that they must wear a face covering throughout the flight, and that it must cover both nose and mouth.
The captain came on the PA informing us that our flight would take around two hours and 10 minutes and that we’d be cruising at 38,000 ft. He reminded passengers that they must stay in the same seats.
We pushed back from the gate at 1.15pm and taxied out towards Zagreb’s only runway. After the shortest take-off roll ever, our super-light A319 took off at 1.27pm, leaving most of the runway still ahead of us.
There were good views of Zagreb’s snazzy airport on departure.
After takeoff, the crew said they would be serving drinks and a snack in Euro Traveller, while Club Europe passengers would get drinks and a light lunch.
The business class meal came in a box and there was a choice of sandwiches - either coronation chicken or mozzarella and tomato.
Along with the sandwich there was a small pot of unidentifiable salad and a chocolate mousse for dessert. The chicken sandwich was fine, but I wasn’t overly hungry, so I left half of it (and the salad). As usual, the Do&Co dessert was excellent.
Along with the meal I had a mini bottle of Italian red wine (a Malbec was also available). The meal was just okay (or perhaps it was no worse than the one I got on the first flight, and that I was just in a bad mood following the lounge drama 😏).
Around 45 minutes into the flight, the tempting aroma of hot food started filling the business class cabin, which baffled me as only cold meals are being served to passengers at the moment. I looked up and, sure enough, the crew were eating hot meals in the galley!
While I don’t begrudge the crew from eating, I thought that was a bit of a kick in the teeth when business class customers have to make do with a sandwich!
Unlike on the outbound journey, there was very little personal interaction with the crew on this flight as they preferred to talk among themselves. They remained in their seats for most of the remainder of the flight, but did come back to offer a drink about an hour out of London (and again just before landing).
As to be expected, the bathroom was nothing special on a short-haul aircraft, but remained clean (even at the end of the flight) and was stocked with some very nice-smelling White Company toiletries.
There were brilliant views of London on the approach to Heathrow:
There was no holding and we arrived at 2.45pm - about ten minutes ahead of schedule.
Inside the terminal, there were numerous posters warning about the need to quarantine after arriving in the UK, but that doesn’t apply to arrivals from Croatia (and some other European countries).
It is, however, necessary to submit an online locator form to tell the UK government about your recent travels - and it must be submitted before you make your journey to the UK (though this wasn’t mentioned by British Airways on either of my flights, so be prepared).
After a ten-minute wait to get through passport control, I was soon on my way home. Note that nobody asked to see evidence of my completed locator form.
Not that I was particularly concerned about flying during the coronavirus epidemic, but any doubts I may have had were banished on the first flight. British Airways did a great job, providing probably as much as they could in terms of food/ beverage and service, given the strange conditions that prevail at the moment.
Things changed on my second flight and, after being denied access to the lounge and watching the crew eat hot food in front of paying customers, I was left wondering whether it’s worth spending more money or miles for business class at the moment.
Considering the seat is exactly the same in both cabins, lounge access and a hot meal are two key service differentiators - and I felt (literally) short-changed on my second flight. BA has the ability to be a world-leading airline, but right now the offering is as inconsistent as ever.
Have you flown since the easing of lockdown restrictions? How do you feel about paying for business class right now?