Review: British Airways Club Europe A380 London to Madrid

Today I had the chance to fly the British Airways A380 between London and Madrid. British Airways is reintroducing their A380 as demand recovers “post-pandemic” (quotations because the pandemic is nowhere near over, but it’s undeniable that the vaccine has opened up travel possibilities throughout many parts of the world), and for the month of November British Airways is currently operating their A380s on select flights from London Heathrow to Frankfurt for crew familiarisation. I had a free midweek slot this week and award space was wide open, so I decided to book a roundtrip business class Asia Miles redemption for 65,000 Asia Miles both ways (our family has a bunch of Asia Miles expiring in early 2022 that they can’t spend since Hong Kong’s borders are still closed, so the opportunity cost was quite low in this case). I’m booked on another longhaul cabin product on my way back to London tomorrow, but won’t hype it up yet in case of an equipment swap (you can probably guess, though).


British Airways A380 Heathrow Airport

How Can I Get On British Airways’ A380?

British Airways will be flying the A380 on the following routes until December 2, 2021:

All days except Saturday:
BA 902 London (LHR) to Frankfurt (FRA) dep. 07:10 arr. 09:55
BA 903 Frankfurt (FRA) to London (LHR) dep. 11:25 arr. 12:15
BA 462 London (LHR) to Madrid (MAD) dep. 15:15 arr. 18:45
BA 463 Madrid (MAD) to London (LHR) dep. 20:15 arr. 21:15

Saturdays:
BA 456 London (LHR) to Madrid (MAD) dep. 06:30 arr. 09:50
BA 457 Madrid (MAD) to London (LHR) dep. 11:25 arr. 12:55
BA 908 London (LHR) to Frankfurt (FRA) dep. 15:55 arr. 18:40
BA 909 Frankfurt (FRA) to London (LHR) dep. 20:10 arr. 21:00

Equipment swaps are uncommon (only happened once for last Saturday’s Madrid flight) but the A380 is not a guarantee for these shorthaul routes, so do note that there’s always a chance you’d be swapped onto British Airways’ European-style business class, which features economy class-style seats with a blocked middle seat. I’d be cautious about scheduling a back-to-back itinerary just to get on the A380 for that reason, even though you’d definitely be able to make it onto the return flight without issue.

British Airways will then deploy the A380s longhaul on these routes:

  • Dubai (DXB) on BA106/107 as of December 3, 2021
  • Miami (MIA) on BA208/209 as of December 5, 2021
  • Los Angeles (LAX) on BA268/269 as of December 9, 2021
  • Dallas (DFW) on BA192/193 as of March 26, 2022
    (thanks One Mile At A Time)

Award space is no longer abundant on the shorthaul routes, most likely due to the sheer number of people that have booked onto these routes to fly the A380 shorthaul (guilty as charged) – though British Airways is generally quite generous with award space, so I’d be quite optimistic when searching up an itinerary on British Airways’ A380 business class. If you’re a social aviation nut and flying one of the shorthaul British Airways routes, do check out this forum on FlyerTalk, where there’s an ongoing list of FlyerTalkers that are booked on these shorthaul A380 flights.

My Experience Flying British Airways’ A380 Club Europe

A couple of days before my flight I verified my SpTH form – there were some issues with my middle name on my NHS COVID pass, though this was (somewhat stressfully) rectified on the day before departure. The SpTH form server uses passport/ID numbers as unique identification codes for each passenger, but after receiving a correct NHS COVID pass I was able to resubmit a SpTH form by simply adding a “0” in front of my passport number. British Airways verified my SpTH form with ease, and I was able to get my documents verified within 30 seconds of submission, and able to retrieve a mobile boarding pass.

No extra documentation checks (apart from my passport and boarding pass) were required prior to boarding my flight, which was a pleasant surprise, since I arrived London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 by tube at 12:30 PM for my 3:15 PM flight. I fully expected the ground experience to be a hassle, but instead found myself through security in around 20 minutes (with a somewhat slow-moving fast track queue at customs). I headed to a couple of Galleries lounges (by the A, then B gates), both of which I’ll review in future posts, since I’m keen to push this flight review out while the shorthaul A380 flights are still running; in the meantime, do head to the Galleries lounge by the B gates before your A380 flight, since it’s much quieter and closer to the A380 gates (I learned this the hard way, having spent far too much time at the Galleries A lounge and having less than 10 minutes to spend at the B lounge).

After spending some time at British Airways’ Galleries lounges, I made my way to gate C62, where my A380 flight to Madrid was departing. I’m no stranger to being “gate lice” (since I always like being first onboard to avoid disturbing others while photographing the cabin), but the gate lice today felt much tighter than usual, presumably due to some excited passengers wanting to board the A380. Twice while the infirm were invited to board, quite a few people rushed forward to queue, only to be invited to take a seat.

My mobile boarding pass didn’t mention when boarding was scheduled to start, though our boarding passes ended up being scanned at 2:35 PM. I headed down by far the longest jetbridge I’ve ever been down – the plane must’ve been parked a good 100-150 m away from the airport terminal.


A380 Jetbridge C62 London Heathrow Airport

There was a short additional wait prior to boarding since the crew weren’t ready to have any passengers onboard yet, though I was very quickly onboard the British Airways A380 (relative to any other aircraft, it hasn’t actually been that long since I’ve last been on a British Airways A380).


British Airways A380 exterior

British Airways Flight 462
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Origin: London Heathrow (LHR) Gate: C62 Dep: 15:15 (15:45)
Destination: Madrid-Barajas (MAD) Gate: S21 Arr: 18:45 (18:40)
Duration: 2 hr 30 min (1 hr 55 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A380 Reg: G-XLEF
Seat: 11K (Business Class/Club Europe)

Once onboard, I made it past the 14-seat First Class cabin, taking up the space between the first two sets of doors on the lower deck of the British Airways A380. While British Airways occasionally lets Club Europe passengers sit in the First Class cabin on some shorthaul flights operated by widebody aircraft, these seats aren’t up for grabs on the shorthaul A380 flights, since the pilots flying the plane back from Madrid to London would be seated here.


British Airways A380 First Class

I headed to the 44-seat business class cabin on the lower deck.


British Airways A380 Business Class Lower Deck Cabin

I also briefly peeped at the economy class cabin on the lower deck, consisting of 199 seats across two cabins arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration.


British Airways A380 Economy Class Cabin

I’ve extensively reviewed the British Airways A380 business class hard product when I flew the A380 from London to Hong Kong, so I’ll do so again. In short, the hard product is not something to be excited about on the British Airways A380.

While British Airways is installing Club Suites with doors on many of their newer planes, the A380s continue to feature a forwards-backwards layout. The business class cabin on the lower deck was laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration, which is not fun – the forwards-backwards configuration creates an awkwardness for solo travellers uncomparable to any other business class seat, since you and your seatmate are in clear view of each other. This is mitigated by a privacy partition inflight, though that has to be lowered for takeoff and landing. Window and middle seat passengers also have to clamber over the footstool of the aisle seat passenger behind them whenever they want to leave their seat, which isn’t ideal. Thankfully British Airways has plans to install Club Suites on their A380s, since this is an embarrassing longhaul business class hard product in 2021.

These comments are all related to my thoughts on the seat when the A380 returns to flying longhaul – meanwhile, I was more than happy to be perched here for this short 2-hour flight.


British Airways A380 Business Class Seat 11K

Last time I was seated on the upper deck, where I at least had a few massive side storage bins to store my bags. On the lower deck (much like on British Airways’ 777s and 787s), you’re limited to this tiny little shoe cubby underneath the seat, which you can’t even access when your seat is in lie-flat mode – everything else has to go into the overhead bins during takeoff and landing.


British Airways A380 Business Class Floor Storage

Another annoying aspect of these seats is that the TV has to be stowed into position during takeoff and landing, so you can’t even watch your favourite movies and TV shows to avoid awkward eye contact with your seatmate. I won’t be covering the (somewhat extensive) entertainment options in this review, so check out my previous review of British Airways’ A380 business class if you’d like to learn more – if you’d like a tl;dr, there are plenty of current options and the touchscreen function is responsive, though there isn’t a tail camera or anything that particularly stands out.


British Airways A380 Business Class In-Flight Entertainment Monitor

On this flight, I also realised how flimsy the tray table was – not only did it not hold much weight, but it kept sliding back and forth, since the table’s drawer slides didn’t have much resistance. This meant that when I wanted to pull the table towards me, it would always slowly slide away due to the plane’s pitch. I’d have appreciated more resistance along the drawer slides, or simply even a few positions that I could latch the table onto.

To the seat’s credit, I did find myself pleasantly surprised by the seat’s ample padding. The seat is contoured with a “bucket design”, creating a cradling effect that I found to be very comfortable.

While British Airways doesn’t pass out pillows and blankets on shorthaul flights, they did come around during the beginning of the boarding process with a headset. I didn’t use it, though appreciated that these were offered (this isn’t a standard Club Europe offering, given that British Airways’ narrowbody planes don’t have inflight entertainment systems).


British Airways A380 Club Europe Amenities

The boarding process was efficient, and everyone was seated within 20 minutes. Every seat in business class was taken, including my seatmate, who was a friendly lady working for a hotel management group.

The head of cabin crew welcomed us over the PA, as did the captain, who specifically welcomed us onboard the A380 – he said “it may or may not have been a surprise to you that this flight was operated by an A380”, and followed with an explanation of British Airways’ current shorthaul rollout for crew familiarisation. He announced our flight time (I didn’t catch the exact figure) and explained our flight path southwest.

The captain also explained that even though boarding wrapped up around 10 minutes before departure, we’d be held back for around 10-15 minutes as cargo was still being loaded onto the aircraft. When our departure time rolled around, the captain came back onto the PA to announce a 10-minute delay, for the same reason. He also mentioned that the runway wasn’t particularly busy, so once the cargo was loaded up, we’d be all set to go.

At around 3:20 PM, a manual safety demo was conducted (I found it interesting how British Airways isn’t using their A380 safety video on these shorthaul flights).


British Airways A380 Club Europe Cabin during Safety Briefing

Before pushback, my seatmate spilled some water, though the crew offered her a mattress pad to sit on so her clothes wouldn’t get wet. I asked for some water, and was told bottled water wasn’t distributed on shorthaul flights – the crewmember serving me happily provided me with a glass of water.

We pushed back around 5 minutes later, at 3:25 PM. It was a beautiful day for flying, though it did get a little cloudier by mid-afternoon.


Traffic at Heathrow Airport

While our taxi was lengthy, traffic at the airport indeed was not very busy. We followed a British Airways A321neo to runway 27L, eventually taking off at around 3:55 PM – vamonos!


Takeoff Heathrow Airport

WiFi was activated around 5 minutes after takeoff On this particular flight, WiFi was priced as follows:

  • £2.99 for messaging (full-flight)
  • £4.99 for one hour of streaming-quality WiFi
  • £7.99 for the entire flight of streaming-quality WiFi

While a flight package technically only yielded me 1.5-2 hours of WiFi, I really appreciate that British Airways doesn’t charge for WiFi by data usage on their A380s. The WiFi definitely wasn’t streaming-quality, though it was stable throughout the journey and definitely usable, so I have no complaints.

At this point the function for raising privacy partitions was also turned on. Once my privacy partition was raised, I had lots of privacy – this can’t be said about the aisle seats, which are directly exposed to the aisle with no privacy partition whatsoever.

The seatbelt sign was turned off around 10 minutes after takeoff, and the crew sprang into action.


British Airways A380 Business Class Cabin After Takeoff

While they did so, I left my seat (which required clambering over the legs of my fellow traveller in seat 12J) and went to check out the lavatory. British Airways’ A380 feature a massive lavatory on the upper deck, though it was cordoned off for crewmembers working the return flight – instead, there were four smaller lavatories behind row 15. All featured toiletries from The White Company.


British Airways A380 Business Class Lavatory

After I returned to my seat, a friendly crewmember came to take my meal order. No menus were provided on this flight, though I was provided a choice between bangers and mash, and a vegetarian pasta. I was also told that a full bar was stocked onboard this flight, though ended up choosing some water. A couple of minutes later I decided I also wanted a coffee, and rang the call button – the crew were more than happy to oblige. The design of the seat got in the way of seamless service – every time a crewmember needed to interact with me, the privacy partition would abruptly come down, which was occasionally startling.

Even though this was a shorthaul flight, no trolleys were used – instead, crewmembers brought individual trays to passengers’ seats. I thought was very impressive, and wasn’t expecting this level of personalisation throughout the service on such a short flight. I received my meal around 45 minutes after takeoff.

I’d just had lunch in the Galleries lounge prior to my flight (a la carte – stay tuned), so thought the vegetarian pasta would be the light option – indeed it was, though it was also delicious beyond expectations. The dish was a very well-executed roasted tomato and olive pasta, and it was served with an outstanding pot-de-creme style dessert – the latter in particular was so, so good! British Airways’ business class catering is managed by DO&CO, a renowned inflight catering company – I’ve only tried DO&CO’s catering on British Airways, though they do not disappoint.


British Airways A380 Club Europe Meal – Vegetable Pasta

I mean, yum! The meal was also served with a warm packaged bread roll and a salad – I was too stuffed to have any of the latter, though enjoyed the former.


Yum!

Even with a full cabin, the crew were very attentive and eager to please, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. They proactively cleared my tray within 10-15 minutes of me finishing my meal, despite the fact that many other passengers were still eating.

During this time I was listening a podcast that I’d downloaded (in case the WiFi failed), though I also took the time to admire the beautiful sunset that lit up the cabin. The sunset almost served as a backdrop for the gigantic A380 engines, if it weren’t for the scratched windows that were in dire need of replacement.


Sunset in British Airways A380 Business Class Cabin

I’d asked a crewmember earlier if I could visit the upper deck inflight, since I’d seen that a few people on FlyerTalk were able to. The crewmember was happy to take me to the upper deck after they had finished the meal service. The meal service took the majority of the flight – in fact, the captain made a “40 minutes before landing” announcement before everybody was finished – though the crewmember came back to invite me to join her upstairs for a walk-through.

It was surreal seeing an empty economy class cabin inflight, though that’s exactly what I saw once I walked up the back staircase of the British Airways A380. The rearmost economy class cabin on the upper deck was super intimate, consisting of only 32 seats; in front, a larger economy class cabin featured 72 seats.


British Airways A380 Upper Deck Economy Class

I was then able to revisit the plane’s 55-seat premium economy class cabin on the upper deck, laid out in a 2-3-2 coniguration. I reckon flying an A380 in premium economy on the upper deck would be a treat, due to the massive storage bins that the A380 features.


British Airways A380 Premium Economy

Finally I was invited to tour business class on the upper deck, spread out across two cabins in a 2-3-2 configuration. I’d love to say this brought back fond memories, though the only time I’ve flown British Airways’ A380 on the upper deck was when I had to leave London last-minute at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic…I was very glad to be here under slightly different circumstances.


British Airways A380 Upper Deck Business Class Cabin

The crewmember touring me around the upper deck also explained to me how they worked these Madrid flights, which I found really fascinating. Basically, one group of crewmembers would work the flight to Madrid while the other group used the upper deck as a crew rest area, and they would swap on the way back. The pilots also did a similar back-to-back journey, but used the first class cabin as a crew rest instead.

Speaking of the first class cabin, I was also given the opportunity to check it out before heading back to my seat – unfortunately I could only stay for a couple of minutes before we were told to be seated for landing! British Airways’ A380 first class cabin is located on the lower deck, and they’re basically extremely wide reverse herringbone seats – I thought the cabin was very understatedly stylish, and there was certainly much more storage up here than in my seat in business class.


British Airways A380 First Class Cabin

The captain came onto the PA for a “20 minutes until landing” announcement. The seatbelt sign was turned on, and privacy partitions were lowered. My seatmate struck up a conversation with me after I filmed my video outro for the YouTube video I’ll be making for this flight (yes, I talk to a camera on planes), and I also took the chance to admire the beautiful dusk sky as we approached Madrid.


Sunset over Madrid

We touched down into Madrid-Barajas Airport on runway 33L at around 6:35 PM, and from there it was a very short taxi to our gate in Terminal 4S.


Pulling into Madrid Airport

Once we arrived Madrid Airport, we were all told to stay seated until our row number was called, and not to retrieve our personal belongings just yet – a command that was largely followed at first, though most people still retrieved their belongings before we were cued to. Approximately five minutes later, business class passengers were invited to disembark first.

Exiting Madrid Airport was easy, and all queues were lightning quick – first I went through passport control, then once reaching the arrivals area my SpTH QR code was scanned, and my passport wasn’t even checked. One observation is that Madrid-Barajas’ Terminal 4 is absolutely massive – despite the fact that there was zero queueing time, it still took a good half-hour to get from the airplane door to the arrivals hall.

Conclusion: British Airways A380 Club Europe

British Airways is flying their A380 from London to Frankfurt and Madrid in November 2021 so crewmembers can re-familiarise working the A380 as demand recovers after the COVID-19 pandemic. This plane is a treat to fly shorthaul, especially in Europe, when otherwise the hard product in business class typically consists of economy class-style seats with a blocked middle seat. The food exceeded expectations by a long shot, whereas service was also impressive, and the crewmembers shared my excitement of being able to fly onboard the A380 again.

However, I can’t help but feel like I’m not too excited about the A380 being brought back on longhaul routes, at least if I were flying in their business class cabin. British Airways’ A380 business class hard product is outdated, the forwards-backwards arrangement is tight and awkward, there’s no direct aisle access, the aisle seats have no privacy, and for those on the lower deck, storage space is minimal. British Airways operates a far superior business class product on their A350s and 777s fitted with their new Club Suite.

I’d definitely be super excited if I were flying one of British Airways’ shorthaul A380s between London and Frankfurt/Madrid, though would still actively choose a plane with the Club Suite over the A380 if I were flying in British Airways’ Club World on a longhaul flight.

Have you flown British Airways’ A380 since it was reintroduced earlier this month? Are you planning to try British Airways’ A380 upfront soon?

Any thoughts?

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