British Airways' World Traveller Plus product is impressive – the seat, catering, amenities and WiFi were all much better than I was expecting. I don't love their ground experience and their seat selection charge, though.
As part of my travel back to London for second term at university, I had to find a way to get back to the UK in January. Award space is never abundant during the Christmas period, I pounced on the ability to fly British Airways’ premium economy (also known as their “World Traveller Plus” cabin) for 45,000 Asia Miles on a date that worked for my schedule. I want to review all three premium economy products between London and Hong Kong, and British Airways premium economy is a very useful product to review for both students and business travelers alike anyway.
British Airways Premium Economy Ground Experience
With that in mind I bid farewell to my parents on January 1st, before heading to the airport at around 9 PM in order to catch my flight.
At the airport I found a long check-in line, as British Airways’ 777 and A380 depart just a few minutes apart out of Hong Kong (I’m not sure why this is, though I’m not complaining, since I’d choose a night flight between Hong Kong and Europe any day). British Airways doesn’t feature a separate check-in line for premium economy passengers, which sets them behind Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic.
Long check-in line in Hong Kong for British Airways passengers
The check-in line took around 20 minutes. British Airways allows two 23 kg bags to be checked in for each premium economy passenger. I underestimated the weight of one of my bags, which weighed 29 kg – there was not much to be done with 6 kg of extra stuff (I was moving for the next few months, after all), so I sorted out the dilemma with an overweight baggage charge of HK$664.
Virgin Atlantic has the same baggage allowance for their premium economy passengers, and Cathay Pacific offers a total baggage allowance of 35 kg. My other bag weighed 8 kg, so I would’ve had to pay up either way.
Go figure that British Airways’ A380 flight was departing two gates away (and 10 minutes after), so there was clear signage at both check-in and the boarding gate telling us to make sure we boarded the correct flight.
As usual, immigration and security were a breeze at Hong Kong Airport, so I made it to gate 7 where I had a direct view of the 777 taking me to Heathrow.
British Airways Boeing 777 Hong Kong Airport
Boarding was scheduled at 10:50 PM, and sure enough that’s when it started – after a brief scare when a glitch in the gate information briefly had us headed all to Singapore (a Singapore Airlines 787 was actually parked at the gate next to us, and had been delayed by quite a bit due to weather conditions in Singapore).
Are we going to Singapore now!?
Boarding began with first class and top tier oneworld elite members, but business class and premium economy were boarded together, which I found quite interesting. While my boarding pass indicated I was in boarding group 3 (business class passengers are in boarding group 2), there was a single lane for both groups at the gate.
I actually don’t think this is a great setup for business class passengers (hopefully on the A380 business class and premium economy are boarded separately, though on this flight with 44 premium economy seats it wasn’t too big of a deal), but at the time I wasn’t complaining…
British Airways Flight BA32
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Origin: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 7 Dep: 23:30 (23:25)
Destination: London Heathrow (LHR) Gate: B36 Arr: 04:45 (04:30)
Duration: 13 hr 15 min (13 hr 5 min)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER Reg: G-STBK
Seat: 26K (Premium Economy/World Traveller Plus)
British Airways 777 Premium Economy Cabin and Seat
I boarded through the plane’s second door and passed through a large business class cabin, ending up in a large 44-seat premium economy cabin laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration. While the airline’s A380 premium economy cabin looks somewhat sleek under cool mood lighting, the colour tones of the British Airways 777 premium economy cabin are almost boringly inoffensive.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Cabin
I do everything in my power to select a window seat in premium economy, so I can lean on the window when getting some rest. I also quite like being in the last row so I can keep my seat reclined throughout the flight without worrying about anybody behind me. Unfortunately, British Airways charges for seat selection in premium economy and business class, which I don’t think any other airline practices. The premium economy seat selection surcharges aren’t quite as outrageous as the business class surcharges (which were a hefty £111 on my return A380 flight), though it is quite disappointing that British Airways nickel-and-dimes their passengers like that. Selecting my seat cost HK$484, which was a price I was willing to pay to guarantee myself my window seat preference.
I selected 26K, the right side window seat in the last row of premium economy.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Seat 26K
Based on what I’d heard, I actually found the seat surprisingly comfortable. Both the padding and recline were in line with what I’ve experienced on Virgin Atlantic’s 787.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Recline
The seat featured a winged headrest. While the winged headrest actually made it hard for me to lean against the plane’s fuselage, I actually found the headrest to be very comfortable and well cushioned, and it cradled my head nicely during the flight.
Legroom isn’t industry leading at a seat pitch of 38″, though I didn’t think the seat was cramped at all.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Headrest and Legroom
At my seat, I also found a footrest that, while sturdy, was starting to show its age and needed a bit of lubrication.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Footrest
Passengers seated in the first row get an extendable legrest. Unfortunately British Airways charges even more to reserve front row premium economy seats, and these seats are also missing a window, so I didn’t choose to sit here.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Legrest
Behind the seat in front of me I found two USB ports, which I appreciated. There was a 110V power port by my feet as well.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy USB Ports
The bi-fold tray table could be deployed from the left. It wasn’t massive, though it was sturdy.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Bi-fold Tray Table
Overall, in terms of ergonomics, design and spaciousness, the seat comfort exceeded my (unfairly?) low expectations. I was happy to be seated here on my way back to London, as you can see in the photo below.
Excited in British Airways 777 Premium Economy
British Airways 777 Premium Economy Amenities
On my seat I found a pillow and blanket. Both exceeded my expectations, especially the blanket by a long shot – the pillow was large, and the blanket was soft, comfortable and quilted, in line with many business class blankets I’ve tried in the past.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Pillow and Blanket
With the comfortable seat and blanket, I slept for a solid eight hours on this flight. I don’t remember the last time I slept as well on a plane, but perhaps I was tired, as it was New Year’s Day and I had a commitment early in the morning.
In the seat pocket in front of me I also found a basic amenity kit, which featured a dental kit, a pen, eyeshades, and hand cream.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Amenity Kit
I also found a pair of sturdy headphones at my seat, which are the same as those provided in business class. I used my own Bose headphones.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Headphones
British Airways 777 Business Class/Club World
While I was walking to my premium economy seat I also had the chance to check out the single massive business class cabin, featuring 56 seats laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration.
British Airways Boeing 777 Business Class Cabin
I’ve actually reviewed British Airways’ similar A380 business class when heading home to be with family during coronavirus season. These seats are marginally older, lack the side storage bins of the A380, and feature a tighter 2-4-2 configuration due to the wider fuselage; though otherwise check out that review to know more about British Airways’ business class product.
As I’ve detailed more thoroughly in the review linked above, British Airways’ business class product features very private window seats, and aisle seats that feature zero privacy, as pictured below.
British Airways Boeing 777 Business Class Exposed Aisle Seat
British Airways Boeing 777 Business Class Private Window Seat
The biggest difference between business class on the 777 and the A380 is the large 2-4-2 layout, which means there are more business class “honeymoon” seats on the 777. Pictured below, these seats are very close together and face the same way, which can get very awkward if you book a last-minute ticket and end up seated next to a stranger.
British Airways Boeing 777 Business Class Honeymoon Seats
British Airways 777 Economy Class
Behind my seat was the economy class cabin, which I also had a quick peek of. British Airways has defied the industry standard and retained a 9-abreast configuration in economy, which is wider and more comfortable than the 10-abreast configurations that almost all other European airlines currently operate their 777s with. The padding didn’t look spectacular and I’ve heard bad things about the headrests, though I do hope to try them out in economy class at some point.
British Airways Boeing 777 Class Economy Class Cabin
Departure from Hong Kong Airport
During boarding, the crew were cheery, humorous, and very British. The passenger in 25G was trying to open the overhead bins, and attracted the attention of the cabin crew. The conversation went a bit like this:
25G: *looks over to cabin crew, expectant for help*
Crewmember: It’s not that hard, allow me…
Crewmember: *chuckles* It’s okay! It’s not gonna bite you – haha – let me show you how to do it.
If this was on any other airline I’d have considered the interaction as borderline rude, though the cabin crew just had their own British way of making an interaction like that seem genuine and welcoming.
Back at my premium economy seat, my views of the tarmac were mostly obstructed by the wing. I wasn’t able to have a great view of the beautiful (and heavily delayed) Singapore Airlines 787-10 parked next to us.
View from the Wing at Hong Kong Airport
I did, however, have a clear viewing of British Airways’ cheesy safety video. Their safety video is the kind of video you cringe at, but when it’s over, you can’t help but want to watch it again.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Safety Video
The safety video was preceded by captain John who went on the PA to announce our flight time, as well as London’s weather conditions. After the safety video, the crew came over and asked all passengers to unplug their USB cables from the seat’s power ports until after takeoff.
I also found it interesting that the cabin was sprayed with insecticide before takeoff. I’ve seen this happen before, but never on a flight between Hong Kong and the UK. We were told to cover our mouth and nose before this happened (this was a flight in early January, so I don’t think it had anything to do with the coronavirus).
We made our way to runway 07R, and at around 11:45 PM we were off on a trek back to London Heathrow.
Takeoff out of Hong Kong Airport
British Airways 777 Premium Economy Lavatory
Shortly after takeoff I decided to check out the lavatory. British Airways doesn’t have dedicated lavatories for premium economy on the 777, so I made my way to the back of the economy class cabin. There are three lavatories between the two economy class cabins, and two at the back – the ones at the back are larger (and, in my case, didn’t require crossing aisles), so I used them throughout the flight.
British Airways Boeing 777 Economy Class Lavatory
British Airways 777 WiFi
While I didn’t think I needed WiFi for the full duration of the flight, the meal service wasn’t particularly efficient, so I bought a flight pass. All of British Airways’ 777-300ERs have WiFi (information for the rest of the fleet can be found here on FlyerTalk), and the prices on this flight were as follows:
- First class passengers get free, unlimited WiFi
- 1 hour of WiFi cost £4.99
- 4 hours of WiFi cost £11.99
- Full flight WiFi costs up to £23.99 – £21.99 on this flight
I purchased the full flight WiFi package. I found the WiFi connection to be extremely stable and reasonably fast, with the only caveat being that you can’t switch between devices. The good WiFi experience is consistent with what I experienced on their A380, though do note that British Airways is moving away from unlimited time-based WiFi towards usage-based charging on their A350s. I’m assuming that’s a profit-oriented move.
British Airways 777 Premium Economy Meal Service
The meal service began around 50 minutes after takeoff. There was a menu in my seat pocket upon boarding, which read as follows:
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Menu
The meal service began with a drinks run. I ordered a bloody mary, which was served a tomato juice/Worcestershire sauce/ice concoction with a vodka mini on the side. This was served with sour cream and onion pretzels, which were nice (though not exactly very premium feeling).
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Bloody Mary
I only used half the mini in my first glass, and told the flight attendant I wasn’t sure what to do with the other half of the mini. She smiled and eagerly topped up some bloody mary “base” for me.
Passengers were served from front to back, so I was served an hour and a half after takeoff, over 40 minutes after my drink was given to me.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Meal
I selected the braised beef short ribs, and had somewhat low expectations. Expecting rock hard pieces of meat, I pressed my fork into the meat, and was surprised to see the meat fall apart. The short ribs were amazing – super flavourful and super tender; the potatoes on the side were well cooked and nicely seasoned, as were the carrots and onions the dish was served with. What an outstanding meal – this definitely blows Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy class meal offering out of the water.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Meal – Braised short rib of beef
The meal was served with a barley and smoked chicken salad that featured a refreshing squeeze of lemon – a huge step up from your average leafy, bland airplane salad greens. I also really liked the cinnamon carrot cake that came with the meal, even though it wasn’t quite as memorable as the other two courses.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Meal – Smoked chicken, pearl barley and roasted pumpkin salad
My seatmate wasn’t eating, though stayed awake. I had a decent chat with him about my ambitions, as he seemed quite interested in my photo and video documenting of the flight. He was a really nice guy heading home to Vancouver through London (and apparently had savoured Hong Kong’s delicious food a bit too much to eat on this flight), and it was nice to chat to him, especially since my meal tray took a while to be cleared.
British Airways 777 Premium Economy Service
I struck up a conversation with a flight attendant on the way to the lavatory after the meal. Upon briefly remarking that the flight seemed packed, she explained to me that the flight was particularly full as British Airways scaled back their 777 flight to Hong Kong over the Christmas period. Despite that, the crew were in high spirits, and provided excellent service on this flight.
This was a “worldwide” British Airways crew, which meant that they were hired before British Airways’ 2010 labour disputes (as opposed to “mixed fleet” crew, which were hired after 2010 and tend to be younger and less experienced); despite the fact that the meal service took a while, they were fully comfortable with the service process, and were eager to please.
British Airways 777 Premium Economy Pre-Arrival Meal Service
I woke up shortly before the breakfast service, which was served approximately an hour and a half before landing. I selected to have a vegetarian omelet, as both choices featured eggs – it would’ve been nice to have a bit more variety.
The omelet was surprisingly tender, fluffy and delicious – I never expect that from eggs on a plane – and whilst the potatoes were soggy, the beans were nice as well. I asked for a coffee with breakfast, and it was also served with a pot of strawberry yoghurt. British Airways’ catering really exceeded my expectations by a long shot on this flight.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Meal – Omelet, sauteed potato, baked beens, cherry tomato
British Airways 777 Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment System
After the meal I decided I’d best check out the entertainment system. While the range wasn’t super extensive (and the interface could use a refresh), the entertainment system featured a good range of new movie hits. I didn’t end up watching a movie, as it was early in the morning and I was still connected to inflight WiFi.
British Airways Boeing 777 Premium Economy Entertainment System
Landing into Heathrow Airport
At around 4 AM UK time, captain John came back onto the PA and announced that the cabin would shortly be prepared for landing. He then advised “cabin crew, 20 minutes until landing”. Surely, at 4:25 AM, we were wheels-down into Heathrow Airport, where we taxied over to Terminal 5.
Landing into London Heathrow
British Airways 777 First Class
Upon asking for permission, during landing I was given a chance to check out British Airways’ 14-seat first class cabin, laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration. While the cabin looked comfortable, nowadays I can name more impressive business class cabins out there, so it really is somewhat past its prime. Despite that, I quite liked the colour tones and finishing touches, including the mini-lamps by each seat, the fans as privacy screens, etc.
British Airways Boeing 777 First Class
We landed at the B gate area of Heathrow Airport. Technically there was a transit train that could’ve taken me straight to immigration, though I preferred a bit of a walk. So I went down to the underground transit walkway and walked to UK border control, which was a treat, as the hallway was completely deserted.
Heathrow Terminal 5 Walkway to Immigration
I also didn’t waste any time at all, as my bags took forever to come out. Eventually I made my way onto the Piccadilly line, and made it home to my residence at Imperial College.
Conclusion: British Airways 777 Premium Economy
I lowered my expectations based on what I’d heard about British Airways as a whole, so I was very pleasantly surprised by British Airways’ World Traveller Plus cabin on their 777. The seat comfort, food, amenities and service all surpassed my expectations by a long shot. I’m honestly shocked that I’m saying this, but if the other premium economy products I’ve tried are a good indicator, British Airways’ premium economy class is really quite competitive.
The ground service stops British Airways’ premium economy from being industry leading, however. The most irritating part is that British Airways charges for seat selection even for their premium customers (both in premium economy and business class), though I doubt that’s likely to change, since the airline knows they can get away with that. In addition, British Airways needs to introduce priority check-in for premium economy passengers as a way to differentiate the experience.
Many aspects of British Airways’ premium economy product onboard experience were either on par with or excelled over my respective experiences on Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy product. That being said, I’ve still yet to try Cathay Pacific’s premium economy between Hong Kong and London. I hope to do so when the coronavirus conundrum is over, potentially using miles or a cheap ex-Europe fare, so I can fairly compare all three products using my own firsthand experience.
Read more from this trip:
Have you tried British Airways’ premium economy/World Traveller Plus before? How was your experience?