British Airways World Traveller Plus: More premium than economy

I learned two very important things while flying with British Airways recently. Firstly, Mindy Kaling is adorable — I took notes on the flight while on board and I underlined “adorable” twice. Secondly, that anyone and everyone who appreciates good comedy should be watching The Mindy Project. It’s smart, witty, well-acted and I thoroughly enjoyed the six episodes I watched. What do either of those things have to do with British Airways, or flying in general? Well, these revelations were only made possible while flying from Washington to London in British Airways’ premium-economy cabin, World Traveller Plus.

I’ve long been skeptical of premium economy. For me, the value and experience were never quite enough to warrant the increase over a standard economy fare. Flying long-haul can be a tiresome annoyance, but when it came down to it — and I’m the one paying for the ticket — I’d take the relative discomfort of economy for the couple hundred dollars it saved me.

In June, I was extremely fortunate to be upgraded by British Airways from the economy seat I’d purchased to their World Traveller Plus cabin. It was very gracious of them, but I landed in Dulles Airport after my flight from London Heathrow somewhat disenchanted with the whole experience. It didn’t help that I was incredibly ill and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed and take Advil, but the problem also lay in the cabin. I flew in the old-style interior, which uses a design ushered in with BA’s brand overhaul in the early ’00s. It’s nice, but it’s certainly beginning to show its age.

I was seated at the front of the small WTP cabin, in an aisle seat. The chair was comfortable, there was decent legroom compared with economy, and the cabin crew were friendly and attentive. Snacks and drinks were readily available. I had plenty of shoulder and hip space to move my slim six-foot frame about in my chair, and the cabin was kept at a pleasant temperature. Dinner was served as we flew over the Atlantic, with a choice of Business Class meals served on proper plates with metal cutlery and a selection of wines to accompany. Everything was fine — that was, until I tried to watch some of the in-flight entertainment. From my seat came a screen that was barely larger than my 5-inch smartphone, the resolution and clarity of which were laughably poor. I found the screen such a chore to enjoy content on that I retired it and used my tablet instead.

Landing in D.C. I was — apart from still very ill — ambivalent toward my experiences. It was nice, spacious, quiet… but it didn’t feel “special.” There was no sense, save for much better catering, that it was worth more than my economy seat. Something wasn’t quite right, though. Whether due to the cabin or my illness, I wanted to give British Airways another chance, so, while flying overnight from Dulles to London recently, I upgraded myself to World Traveller Plus. It was a difference of a few hundred dollars, but one thing made my decision much easier: I would be travelling in BA’s new, vastly improved, thoroughly modern cabin.

The difference was incredible. There’s something about the way British Airways conducts a flight that I can’t quite put my finger on, something that feels unique compared to other airlines. Whether it’s the impossibly polite and friendly staff, or the detailed and utterly British captain’s announcements before and during the flight, or the history that comes from so many years of service, flying BA is a wondrous experience regardless of where you’re sitting. Shortly after I settled into the cabin, which feels intimate and cozy with just five rows of seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, we took off toward the Atlantic. Hot towels were distributed once we were in the air, and drinks followed soon after, accompanied by a selection of snacks. Once again, the Business Class menu was offered for perusal — on which was an offering that would put many restaurants to shame. After another round of drinks, dinner arrived, and it was magnificent.

Forget everything you know about airline cuisine. My appetizer was a fresh, light, mixed-green salad with balsamic vinaigrette. The entree I selected was raisin-, pistachio- and sausage-stuffed pork, with spinach, baby carrots, herb risotto and a pork demi-glace. Dessert was a glorious slice of apple-cinnamon cake, with a hot, crusty, soft roll and light butter to accompany everything. The meal was utterly delicious.

A selection of wines was on-hand and I opted for a semi-sweet, white Côtes de Gascogne. Bottled water was provided and, once dinner was finished, tea and coffee were served. On top of this, everything arrived on a beautiful tray, with those aforementioned proper plates and metal cutlery, as well as a rolled, fabric napkin. No plastic containers and breakable knives here.

Once the impeccable flight attendants had cleared dinner and offered a second small bottle of wine, I stowed my tray in the armrest and loosened my belt a little, better able to appreciate the chair I was seated in. The space really is incredible — far more than I had expected compared with economy. Fixed armrests on either side of the chair prevent stretching out between seats, but the extra width of the chair compensates for this and adds adjustable lumbar support on top — perfect for preventing fatigue. Legroom is leagues above the World Traveller (economy) seat. I had an almost unreasonable amount of space in which to move. My neighbor in front reclined their seat and I was still able to slouch over and write notes on my table or get some work done on my Surface without touching their chair. Eating, stretching out, storing items and accessing the overhead lockers were all made easier with the space on offer. That’s not even taking the headrest into account — it’s so good I expect its creator to be knighted. Soft yet springy, it cups under the base of your head to hold it in place, and features fixed wings to catch you while you sleep. Whether lying back and watching a film or stretching out and sleeping, it’s a masterful piece of furniture design.

The ever-attentive flight attendants routinely walked through the cabin, offering drinks and closing the window blinds next to passengers who had fallen asleep — lest they be blinded by sun as we neared England in the morning. We were still several hours from London, so I decided to snuggle into the provided pillow and blanket and watch some of the in-flight entertainment. I plugged my phone into one of two USB chargers, stuck my Surface’s plug into the in-seat power adaptor, put my wine on the small drinks table built into the armrest — an incredibly convenient option that allows the tray table to be stowed — and flicked on the screen. Any previous infotainment worries were wiped from my memory. It’s a high-resolution display that I’d estimate to be around 10 inches, and the color and clarity it offered was night and day compared with the old cabin.

This is where I stumbled upon The Mindy Project. I stretched out, enjoying the peaceful warmth of our intimate little cabin, plugged my headphones in and laughed my way through two hours of the flight, partaking in the water and fruit juices regularly offered once my wine was depleted. This is where World Traveller Plus sealed the deal. There were no crying children, the lights were dimmed to allow for sleep, and my aisle seat meant I could move to the toilet without disturbing my fellow passengers, most of whom had dropped off. There were zero distractions, which, combined with the great screen, meant I could fully focus on enjoying the in-flight entertainment. That’s why I came to love Mindy Kaling and The Mindy Project (honestly, go watch it). Compared with economy, where I’d be struggling to get comfy or worrying about disturbing people as I moved to the toilet, here any troubles just melt away. It’s stress-free flying.

After I’d exhausted all the available episodes, it was time to sleep. I reclined my chair without fear of intruding on the passenger behind me, leaned against the wing of the headrest and that was it. I woke to the lights being slowly activated a couple of hours later, with no aches, pains or worries that I drooled on anyone next to me. After a quick breakfast of tea or coffee and a croissant, I burned through a few episodes of The Simpsons as our descent into London began.

Disembarking into British Airways’ vast Terminal 5 at London Heathrow, I felt refreshed — and still full from the night’s dinner. Most importantly, however, I was utterly satisfied. World Traveller Plus in BA’s new cabin had banished any lingering disappointment with the old-style interior. It truly does feel special and exclusive. It’s a wonderful place to sit, sleep and eat, and — perhaps most tellingly — I’d happily pay the premium over an economy seat next time I fly. Whether it’s space, comfort, better food, more room to work or simply to add a little extra luxury to your flight, World Traveller Plus is an excellent option.

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Rhuaridh Marr is one of Metro Weekly's contributing editors and covers cars, technology, gaming and world news. He is usually found with a game controller in one hand and a smartphone in the other and can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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