A pretty good showing for an intra-European business class product, including (relatively) comfortable seats, a hot meal, and good WiFi, but that's not saying much in the grand scheme of things
Intra-European business class is not fun – it’s typically economy class with a blocked middle seat, a variable degree of extra service, and if you’re lucky, a tiny bit of extra legroom. While airlines such as Turkish Airlines have defied this trend, often times you’ll unavoidably end up in a product like this, especially in Western Europe. Competitors typically differentiate themselves with better food, onboard service and in-seat technology, though you largely won’t find much differentiation from airline to airline.
British Airways is one of the airlines that offers such a product, and I had the chance to fly it between London and Barcelona. Here’s a comprehensive review, ranging from the seat to the service (not that there’s too much to write about, since it’s marginally more glamorous than riding a Flixbus with an empty seat next to you).
Booking British Airways’ Club Europe
This was a one-way ticket booked with Asia Miles in British Airways’ Club Europe (business class), which cost 20,000 Asia Miles.
Typically I wouldn’t recommend booking intra-European business class unless I was connecting from a longhaul flight, though here are a few reasons why I did:
- I was able to use up entirely the last of our family’s “expiring” Asia Miles (Cathay changed their policy in 2020 so that Asia Miles no longer expire, though miles earned before then still have an expiry date)
- I booked so far in advance that I didn’t know how big of a bag I’d had to check in – I would’ve gotten away with the economy class baggage allowance, though didn’t know that at the time
- This was one of four segments I was flying back-to-back on my family trip to Italy, so I figured with fast-track access I could keep things relatively stress-free
- I’ve never reviewed British Airways’ Club Europe before (despite having lived in the UK for four years), so thought I’d at least do so once
My Experience Flying British Airways’ Club Europe
Heathrow Terminal 5’s security staff were striking on the day that I was flying, so I got to the airport at 8:50 AM (2 hours and 10 minutes before my flight – I meant to arrive exactly two hours before, but mistimed). As I’d noted in a separate post, departing out of Heathrow Airport was still completely painless during strike days, especially in a premium cabin (this doesn’t change the fact that I think Heathrow should be paying their staff the wages they deserve). After passing through Fast Track security, I dropped by the North Galleries lounge, which I’ve reviewed here.
My flight was leaving from gate A22, and boarding was scheduled to start at 10:20 AM. I headed over to the gate at around 10 AM, since I wanted to get a glimpse of my aircraft on an uncharacteristically beautiful morning at Heathrow.
British Airways A321 Heathrow Airport
I spent some time in the gate area waiting for the flight to board, especially since the gate agents didn’t seem like they were looking to start boarding by 10:20 AM. During this time several announcements informed us that the flight was completely full and larger cabin bags would have to be gate-checked, and gate agents went up to several people with larger carry-ons informing them that they would have to say goodbye to their bags.
Families with young children were invited to board first, and this ended up being a good half of the aircraft, due to the number of families headed to Barcelona for vacation. It was a pang of nostalgia for me, as I realised this was the first “real” holidaymaker flight I’d flown since pre-COVID.
General boarding started at 10:35 AM with business class and Oneworld Emerald passengers. I walked down the glass jetbridge to the aircraft, and thought to myself that I wouldn’t have minded being stuck here, given how great of a day it was. Unfortunately we did have to wait for about 10 minutes before we could board, except in the last part of the jetbridge where there were no windows.
Jetbridge at Heathrow Airport
British Airways Flight BA474
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Origin: London Heathrow (LHR) T: 5 Gate: A22 Dep: 11:00 (11:55)
Destination: Barcelona El Prat (BCN) T: 1 Gate: A20 Arr: 14:15 (14:45)
Duration: 2 hr 15 min (1 hr 50 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A321 Reg: G-EUXC
Seat: 4F (Business Class/Club Europe)
Upon boarding I noted that they had a fairly busy flight. The crew were in cheery spirits, and the friendly inflight manager replied “if you wanna help, let us know”.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Cabin and Seat
As I noted in the beginning of the post, intra-European business class really is nothing special – it’s literally economy class with a blocked middle seat. British Airways’ seat is a little more pimped out than the seats I’ve tried on other airlines, as at least you get an adjustable headrest.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Cabin
While this particular older A321 featured adjustable headrests at every economy class seat, don’t expect to see the same on British Airways’ A320neo series aircraft, which feature much more basic economy class seats as a weight-cutting measure (fortunately the seats in the first few rows continue to be the same as those fitted on this aircraft, which makes for very ugly airplane interiors, though a comfier experience for Club Europe passengers).
British Airways A321 Economy Class Cabin
I was seated in seat 4F, right in front of the curtain. British Airways charges for advance seat selection even on Club Europe flights (there are occasional exceptions when it’s booked as a tag-on to a longhaul flight), and 4F was the only window seat available when online check-in opened. Seat selection would’ve otherwise cost £25 (HK$243).
British Airways A321 Club Europe Seat 4F
I was happy to see a table to place items between seats, and it also featured leather and faux wood padding, allowing for a slightly classier look than your typical plastic table.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Tray Table Between Seats
A tray table folded out from the seat in front. After flying longhaul a fair bit during the Christmas period, a seat with 30″ pitch did feel fairly tight.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Tray Table
There were also air nozzles in the overhead panels, which I put to good use especially during the beginning of the flight.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Air Nozzles
Seat 4F also featured a delightful view of the wing, which was really handy during this scenic flight to Barcelona.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Wing View
Unfortunately the seat didn’t feature any in-seat power. I believe British Airways’ newer aircraft at least have USB ports, though that wasn’t the case on this flight.
British Airways Club Europe Amenities (or Lack Thereof)
No pillows, blankets or certainly amenity kits were featured on this Club Europe flight, though we were handed an antiseptic wipe during boarding, which ended up being the only amenity that separated this from a bus ride.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Antibacterial Wipe
Ground Delay and Takeoff from Heathrow Airport
During boarding, the inflight manager repeatedly came onto the PA to announce that the flight was very full, and some bags may have had to be gate-checked if they didn’t fit into the overhead bins.
Boarding was complete at 11:05 AM, about five minutes behind our scheduled departure time. The inflight manager introduced herself on the PA as Alison.
At 11:10 AM Captain George came onto the PA to announce our flying time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, though unfortunately announced that we were facing a ground delay as the cargo hold was still being loaded. We were told that we’d be departing through the eastern runway, which was only a short taxi away. We were also informed of really good weather conditions all the way up to Barcelona, but to please respect the seatbelt sign if it was ever turned on inflight.
A few minutes later we were told we were facing a longer delay due to paperwork issues regarding the cargo hold, and the captain promised to keep us updated.
Alison came back onto the PA and said that a few passengers had requested a drink, and they would serve water to all passengers promptly after takeoff.
One of the passengers seated in Club World asked if there were power ports. He was first told the power port was between seats, but the flight attendant later returned, saying “sorry, this particular aircraft has no power ports…sorry, I’ve been working four different aircraft today”. Cross checks were finally commanded at 11:50 AM.
I really appreciated that despite the fact that we had a ground delay lasting almost an hour, we were always kept updated, and were never left guessing what else had happened to the aircraft. During this time I had a view of the A320neo next to us, headed to Edinburgh.
British Airways A320neo at Heathrow Airport
We pushed back at 11:55 AM and began our taxi to runway 09R.
Views during Taxiing at Heathrow Airport
Wheels-up happened at 12:10 PM, an hour and 10 minutes after our scheduled departure time. I had a good view of Terminal 4 on the way out, though we made a quick right turn to begin our journey south, reaching the coast within minutes of our flight. I can’t stress how beautiful of a day it was for flying – what a joy, especially after a month of terrible March weather.
Takeoff from Heathrow Airport
Once we were airborne, we received a PA announcement thanking us for our patients, with a special shoutout to the many younger flyers onboard our aircraft, who were “clearly very excited to go on holiday”.
British Airways Club Europe WiFi
This A321 featured WiFi, which is a game-changer for otherwise boring intra-European travel. Pricing was as follows:
- £2.99 for inflight messaging
- £4.99 for a one-hour pass
- £7.99 for a full flight pass
WiFi speeds felt faster than the internet on most flights I’ve taken, and measured 1.11 Mbps down and 1.09 Mbps up.
One of the caveats of British Airways’ WiFi is that you can’t switch between devices (without buying two separate plans), which didn’t bother me, though some may find it annoying. WiFi is a big deciding factor for intra-Europe travel when all other factors are more or less equal, though unfortunately not all British Airways shorthaul aircraft have WiFi:
- All A320neos and A321neos have WiFi
- 12 out of 29 A319s have WiFi (41.4%)
- 61 out of 67 A320s have WiFi (91.0%)
- 15 out of 18 A321s have WiFi (83.3%)
Also keep in mind that working WiFi is never a guarantee on any flight, so come prepared in case it doesn’t work on your flight. I’d say that this WiFi-enabled flight had a very competitive offering for an intra-Europe product though.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Lavatory
Shortly after takeoff I also took the chance to visit the lavatory, located in front of the aircraft. This was occasionally visited by people in economy (a young lady was allowed to use the front lavatory when she wasn’t feeling well), and apart from the standard The White Company amenities, also featured some air freshener from Horsley’s.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Lavatory
British Airways Club Europe Meal
A drinks service was carried out in economy class, and it was a while before the crew began serving meals to business class passengers. As the last passenger to be served in the last row, I received my meal at 12:50 PM, 40 minutes after wheels-up. I was given a choice between a yellow chicken curry and a lentil pie, which fall in the same “sphere” of flavour – I’d have appreciated a bigger difference between the two options on offer, though was kind of impressed that they hadn’t ran out of either option (the chicken curry was by far the preferred option amongst the cabin).
I wasn’t feeling anything with overly bold flavours, though chose the chicken curry over the lentil pie. Fortunately the curry was delicious and very well executed. I also really enjoyed the side salad and pot de crème dessert (I had it so quickly that my seatmate, somewhat embarrassingly, offered me his pot de crème as well) – another solid showing from DO&CO, British Airways’ premium cabin caterer.
A drinks trolley followed the food trolley, and I had champagne, which I believe was from Nicolas Feuillate – it wasn’t great, though I had it more for the novelty of day drinking on a flight to Barcelona rather than actually wanting to drink good champagne.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Meal – Yellow Chicken Curry, Bulgur Wheat Salad, Pot de Creme
More than anything I appreciated a full, hot, substantial meal, which not all airlines offer in an intra-European premium cabin of this length.
British Airways Club Europe Service
I really appreciated the crew on this flight, and felt like despite the tall order they were given (it’s never easy to operate a flight with over a hundred holidaymakers, many of whom are less experienced travelers) they were cheery and in good spirits. It was even more impressive learning that they do multiple flight turns a day, and this wasn’t the first flight of the day they were operating, despite it being only 11 AM.
The meal service was served entirely on trolleys, and I do feel like it was pushed later back throughout our short flight time than necessary (my closest comparison point is to Lufthansa, where business class passengers were served almost immediately after takeoff). That’s a small thing to note, though, and overall I have no complaints.
Stunning Mountain Views Over The Pyrenees
While the WiFi served me very well over the course of the flight, there was no other form of inflight entertainment. Or so I thought until we started making our way over Andorra and the Pyrenees, where we were treated to the most gorgeous views of snow-capped mountains. What an absolute treat, especially given the amazing flying weather!
Stunning Mountain Views over the Pyrenees/Andorra
It’s worth noting that over the course of the flight almost nobody lowered their window shade, either in business or economy. I’m fairly “when in Rome” when it comes to window shades (funny enough, I’m actually writing this flight review from Rome…anyway), so I left mine open, which only ended up being a massive treat.
Landing into Barcelona Airport
At about 2:15 PM Barcelona time (just over an hour after takeoff) the captain came onto the PA to inform us that we were landing in about 25 minutes, and of Barcelona’s 16°C temperature. After about 10 minutes, the seatbelt sign was turned on, and the cabin was prepared for landing.
British Airways A321 Club Europe Cabin
We made our approach over Barcelona, which was largely seaside, though I did catch a good view of the coastline during our final descent.
Landing into Barcelona Airport
We were wheels-down at Barcelona El Prat Airport at 2:40 PM local time, and taxiied into gate A20, which took all of five minutes.
There was about a 30 minute wait for immigration at Barcelona, and my bag came out very shortly after I was cleared. Without much of a wait, I was on my way to Gavà Mar for one of the most pleasant airport hotel stays I’ve ever had.
Conclusion: British Airways Club Europe
As far as intra-European business class goes, British Airways does fairly well, with comfortable enough seats with headrests, good WiFi, power ports on their newer aircraft, and a hot meal and full drinks service. That’s not saying that I’d pay to fly business class intra-Europe, though I do think the Club Europe product is competitive. I also felt like a flight with this particular demographic, where lots of travelers are going on holiday and are much less experienced flyers, was handled particularly well.
This was one of the many flights operating between London and Barcelona that had award space on the day I needed, and I chose this flight fairly arbitrarily, since I had an overnight in Barcelona before catching an onward flight the next morning. Going forward I’d probably choose a flight operated by an A320neo or A321neo, given the guaranteed WiFi and power ports – this is more of a moot point, since I don’t think I’d pay extra to fly Club Europe on a one-off flight again, even in a similar situation, unless I knew I had to check a large bag.
I can’t give the product a high grade – they’re not Turkish Airlines, who offers an upgraded seat altogether for business class passengers even on intra-European narrowbody flights (much like the rest of the world), and I’m also docking an extra half a star for the fact that I have to pay to choose a seat. But they weren’t bad, and were certainly better than what I was expecting.
Read more from this trip:
How do you feel about British Airways’ Club Europe?