When British Airways announced they would start to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the Heathrow-Madrid route I booked the inaugural flight for October 29th and couldn’t wait. I was, however, invited to attend the Inaugural JL42 flight to Tokyo which ultimately took priority.
I knew that I wanted to come back and try this route one day so on January 13th I was accompanied by James on BA460 to Madrid onboard G-ZBKN, a Boeing 787-9 model.
My journey began in a strange way – I was unable to check in online because I had an ‘unmatched E-Ticket’. I, therefore, had to check in at the airport. I was worried that this would mean I was going to be given a poor seat but in actual fact, the flight was pretty empty so I was able to sit where I wanted – the Premium Economy cabin in seat 20K.
The airport wasn’t very busy at all and I was through security in under five minutes. I hadn’t been through normal security for a while at T5 as I had been using ‘Fast Track’ for most of my flights beforehand. I was really impressed with the speed at which we were airside.
Once through security I managed to kill time by having a bite to eat and heading to the Concourse C gates on the transfer train. Flying out of C gates can be very hectic and confusing at Heathrow but I found the procedure easy and care-free this time around. I organised pre-boarding to the aircraft for shots, went for a coffee and before I knew it we were ready to go.
Being such a quiet flight, boarding was organised in a very relaxed manner and we took our seats ready for the flight.
British Airways have brought in an updated cabin for the B787-9 aircraft. It differs from the -8 model as it has a First cabin at the front of the aircraft instead of only ‘Club World’ (BA’s long-haul business class). The First cabin has 8 semi-enclosed suites which have been updated from the old First suite. The cabin is laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration and offers 73” of pitch and 22” of width. You can see the difference between old and new below.
The Club section of the aircraft is split into two cabins. The first is a cosier one with only two rows (6 and 7) and the second is a much larger addition covering rows 10 to 13. The Club seats are laid out in the usual formation of alternate staggered seating over a 2-3-2 configuration. Each row has seven seats however, three are facing backwards. Each seat has direct cabin access but seats in the middle of the cabin (E seats) are ones to avoid at all costs. While sitting in this seat I felt a little claustrophobic and closed in which isn’t the feeling you want in business class. Overall the cabin has a really nice feel to it and if you’re flying Club I would definitely recommend getting a seat in the front cabin. The seat offers 72” of pitch (note that is only 1” less than First) and 20” of width.
The next cabin is the Premium Economy cabin or World Traveller Plus as BA call it. The cabin is nicely laid out to feel cosy and at the same time very spacious. The cabin is laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration and covers rows 16-21. The seat to avoid in this cabin is the window seat in row 21 as there is no window. My initial impression of the cabin was good: large seats with a spacious feel. As I sat down it struck me just how good the comfort really was. The 38 inches of legroom is plenty to stretch out your legs and is far better than the Club Europe product BA offer on their short haul fleet.
The seat recline is the best I have seen on a Premium product which may sound like a positive but I found it to have a negative impact. While most modern Premium Economy products have seat shells protecting the passengers behind when you recline, BA have opted not to install this. Seeing as the recline is so good, you can easily end up with a seat in your face. This is something other premium economies such as Air France and Japan Airlines don’t have. This disappointed me. It is possible to see this from either angle, however. If you need to sleep, the recline really is excellent. The footrest under the seat in front is a fantastic addition to the cabin, too.
The final cabin on the aircraft is the economy cabin or World Traveller. This cabin is configured in a 3-3-3 layout and covers rows 30-43.
The economy cabin feels very big but at the same time very cramped. The 128 seats are crammed in a nine-abreast setup. The legroom offered is 31” which doesn’t seem too bad when compared to other airlines. The cabin did, however, feel tight and no way near as comfortable as the Premium cabin.
We pushed back and departed from runway 09R at 13.30 before banking right and heading through the Bay of Biscay to Madrid Barajas Airport. We began our descent at around 16.20 local time and landed on runway 32L at 16.51. The landing was slightly turbulent but it was a great novelty being able to complete a two-and-a-half-hour flight on a 787.
Being a European flight, BA operated it just as they would an A320. The economy section was offered the usual buy on board products from M&S and Club was given a complimentary meal. The First cabin wasn’t used for this flight as it is only utilised on short haul when the Club cabin is overbooked.
I found the crew to be a mixed bag. A special mention goes out to both Arthur and Declan who were attentive and a great laugh. The cabin manager, on the other hand, came across as rude and easily irritable. This was disappointing and reinforced my opinion of preferring Euro Fleet crew.
One of the major perks of flying the 787 on short haul routes is the ability to use IFE (In-Flight-Entertainment). The screens are the same in both economy and premium economy which, in my honest opinion, was pretty poor. The screens had a decent selection of films, games and music but were poor in quality, slow and had terrible touchscreen responsivity. British Airways haven’t, unfortunately, rolled out WiFi on their 787 fleet so connectivity wasn’t available during the flight.
Another major benefit of the Premium cabin is that you get USB plugs in your seat. This can be very handy for keeping you charged during a long flight.
Overall, I had a fantastic time onboard British Airways’ B787 aircraft and was really impressed with both the Club and World Traveller Plus cabins. I was less impressed, however, with the First cabin, which I thought was a nice improvement from the old cabin but still didn’t impress me as a First Class offering, and the economy or World Traveller cabin which was uncomfortable and seemed very cramped. The crew were impressive but the Cabin Manager really let them down with her attitude.
If you’re interested in flying a 787 but can’t afford to fly it long haul then fly to Madrid and experience the Dreamliner in all its glory. A fantastic aircraft and an awesome experience.
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