1972 was an interesting year. The Godfather was the biggest movie, Atari launched the first generation of video games, ABBA reigned supreme in the music charts, and Ceylon became Sri Lanka. Two more events that year, I was born (not historically relevant) and British Airways started flying to Oman. For more than four decades the flag carrier of Britain has been flying to the Sultanate via various routes, but last October they launched a direct flight connecting Muscat to London Heathrow, cutting out the previous stop on the tarmac in neighbouring Abu Dhabi.
That means a journey time now of around seven hours and 30 minutes (more than two hours less travel time), still long enough to tempt a traveller to invest in a business class seat, or Club Class as it is dubbed on British Airways.
For many of those 40 years British Airways led the way as one of the smartest, most luxurious ways to traverse the globe, but in the past decade Gulf operators such as Oman Air, Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar have taken to the skies with their own highly-regarded business class offerings.
So how does the original fare against the new competition? Unsurprisingly British Airways does not try to outgun its rivals on bling, being British it opts for a subtler, calmer and more restrained palette of blues and greys inside the Club Class cabin but that doesn’t mean there are no aspects to this flight that don’t shine. Perhaps the star of the show is the 183cm (6ft) fully flat bed, but not simply because of its size but because of its space.
The BA Club seat is much more open, much less enclosed than on many other airlines. While the luxury ‘pods’ on board competitors do offer much comfort and privacy, they can feel a little claustrophobic to the larger traveller, especially the footwell where sometimes you just want to kick out against the feeling of being closed in. The openness of the BA seat means that perhaps you don’t quite have the privacy (although there are screens to avoid you staring at your fellow passengers) but you do get an extra portion of space. So whether sitting up, reclined or lying down, you can squirm around until you get comfy without banging up against the confines of a pod.
So for some it is a ‘six of one- and-half-of-dozen of the other’ choice that will come down to personal preference; as a ‘six footer’ it meant the 5,829km trip aboard the Boeing 777 included one of the best sleeps I’ve had in the air.
You can tick off the other elements you would expect to find in a business class experience, including the luxury amenity kit (Elemis, nice; and I liked the fact that the bag doubled a shoe bag. I know that makes me sad but I love little details).
You’ve got plenty of entertainment with movies and TV programmes galore. The screen isn’t as big as some rivals but it does the job, and you’ve got fine dining and beverages of course. On my flight Wi-Fi wasn’t available (which can be a blessing as much as curse as I find unplugging for a few hours refreshing).
However, back in April British Airways did announce it was investing £400 million in its Club World offering and committed to rolling out internet connectivity on its long-haul fleet so that could come soon. In all aspects of hospitality, whether it be hotels, cruises, or airlines I personally, passionately rate the experience over the décor, you can be as shiny as you like but if the service is poor it is not five-star.
Happily, the service I experienced on British Airways certainly felt like it was a craft that had been honed over decades of taking care of people in the air. The smiles weren’t forced, requests were happily dealt with, and they even saved me the last piece of my favourite childhood chocolate from the Club Kitchen (a help yourself on-board larder of goodies).
I am a massive fan of the Gulf airlines (and remain so) but British Airways had a truly welcoming feel on-board; it was a little slice of home comfort for long-time expat and will be a definite contender the next time I head back to Blighty.