Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Flight #: BA462
Route: London Heathrow (LHR) > Madrid Barajas International Airport (MAD)
Date: November 22, 2021
Duration: 1hr 41mins
Cabin and Layout: British Airways Club World Business Class (sold as British Airways Club Europe) on the lower deck; 44-seat capacity across 6 rows in a 2-4-2 configuration
Miles used: 15,000 Avios + £17.50 ($24)
I’ll take any chance I get to fly an Airbus A380.
When I discovered British Airways would be bringing the aircraft back into service on flights between London Heathrow (LHR) and Frankfurt (FRA) and Madrid (MAD), I just had to find a way to fly it.
My chance would come when planning a trip to Lisbon, Portugal. Instead of a direct flight from London to Lisbon, I used Avios to snag a cheap ticket for a Club Europe (short-haul business class) seat to Madrid, Spain. From there, I’d connect onto an Iberia flight to Lisbon.
What was especially interesting about my flight is that I received all the benefits of a Club World seat (read: a lie-flat instead of a normal recliner seat), but with downgraded catering compared to what you’d find on typical long-haul routes served by this aircraft.
Speaking of long-haul routes, BA’s A380s are once again flying to North America, serving Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Miami (MIA), and Washington, D.C. So if you’re based in any of those areas and have an upcoming flight with British Airways, your experience will be similar to the one I had on this flight, but with upgraded catering worthy of a long-haul business class flight.
Read on to learn how my flight went!
Booking My Flight
I booked my ticket just 20 days before the departure date, so cash prices were a little higher than I was prepared to pay.
Instead, I used British Airways Avios. Thanks to BA’s Reward Flight Saver redemptions, I was able to choose from 6 different Avios and cash combinations.
I always opt for the combination that has the £17.50 (~$24) cash co-pay, as this usually represents the best value. That held true in this case as well.
I paid a total of 15,000 Avios and £17.50 (~$24) for the one-way flight. We value British Airways Avios at 1.25 cents apiece, meaning the total value of the ticket is about $187.50.
Using the same valuation, the 20,000 Avios + £0.50 (~$0.67) option (which at first might seem like the “cheapest”) equates to a total value of about $250 — a whole $62.50 more than what I paid.
The total I paid for this Club Europe/Club World hybrid experience was 15,000 Avios and £17.50. I was very happy with the amount I paid and consider it to be an excellent value.
London Heathrow Terminal 5
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 1:40 p.m., just 90 minutes before my scheduled departure time, which is cutting it close for me.
I even got an Uber to Heathrow — even more rare for me — but it was showing as the fastest route from where I was in Central London.
BA’s business class check-in area had no line — just how I like it. However, I did not appreciate being asked in a condescending manner if I was indeed flying business class after being looked up and down.
After firmly confirming that I did have a business class ticket, I received my boarding pass and my bag was checked within just a few minutes.
I held things up a little as I checked to see if I could have my bag checked all the way through to Lisbon. This has worked before when I’ve flown Lufthansa and TAP (both Star Alliance members) on separate tickets, but I had no such luck doing the same for 2 separate tickets with British Airways and Iberia.
The no-line theme continued at Fast Track South security, which I cleared in a matter of minutes. This is not just a pandemic-era phenomenon — I’ve rarely had to wait long here during my pre-pandemic travels. It’s definitely a perk of having British Airways Silver elite status.
Hot Tip: Here’s everything you need to know about the British Airways Executive Club program, including the benefits you get at each elite status level.
Once through to the other side, I headed left along the upper level that looks down onto the main departures concourse.
The activity at Heathrow is noticeably and consistently picking up. In fact, this was the closest it felt to what it was like departing from Terminal 5 before the pandemic.
The first set of escalators gives you the option to head down towards the gates, the main duty-free area, and the Galleries South Lounge.
Alternatively, you can continue (like I did) along the upper mezzanine level where you’ll pass a few more shops before arriving at the Galleries North Lounge.
British Airways Galleries North Lounge — Heathrow Terminal 5
I recently reviewed the Galleries South Lounge, so thought I’d check out the North Lounge this time since it had reopened.
Like everything else on this day, there was no line of people waiting to get in.
However, it was rather busy inside.
There were a couple of dozen seats free on the so-called “terrace” area that is separated from the main lounge by a glass partition.
Food was still being served from behind a screen and had to be ordered to your seat by scanning a QR code.
This was the first time I’d noticed the Mr Lyan cocktail station. To mark the reopening of BA’s Concorde Room lounges at Heathrow and New York (JFK), 7 signature cocktails were launched. You can also order 2 of these — the Barton and the Lawford — in BA’s Galleries Club and First lounges.
I didn’t sample either on this occasion, but they’re on my list for my next visit.
It was very busy in the main part of the lounge, with most 2-person seating spaces taken up by at least 1 person. As social distancing is very much still front and center in the minds of many, this meant people leaving lots of empty seats and space between each other.
I definitely prefer the runway views from here over the South Lounge. If the aircraft are landing on the northern runway (9L), you’ll be treated to excellent views of airlines from all over the world touching down.
Some of the chairs appeared to have been replaced since my last visit. Either that or they’re just in a lot better condition than those in the South Lounge.
Screens had also been strategically placed between seats in some areas.
I was happy to see that Union coffee is still being served in BA’s Galleries lounges. It’s consistently my favorite coffee from an airport lounge.
The showers were also open and didn’t require a booking as they weren’t busy.
Drinks were back to self-service. Passengers could choose from all the usual suspects: soft drinks, beers, wine, and spirits.
Plenty of bottled still and sparkling water was available for the taking.
I’m happy to report that the bathroom cleanliness was up to standard.
Boarding London to Madrid
I left the lounge with enough time to take the underground transit to the C-Gate satellite terminal. The journey to the gate took around 10 to 15 minutes.
About 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time, I arrived at Gate C57. Despite the screen announcing “pre-boarding,” nobody had boarded the aircraft yet.
And there she was, the BA A380 — registration G-XLEG — that would take me to Madrid. It had been quite a while since I’d seen one up close, and I was instantly reminded just how large these aircraft are.
The gate area was quiet when I arrived.
As there was no sign of boarding anytime soon, I spent some time watching aircraft landing on runway 9L.
With no sign of boarding 20 minutes later, the departures area was nearing capacity with some passengers opting to stand to maintain some distance.
Boarding finally began around 2:50 p.m. — just 25 minutes before our scheduled departure.
Onboard British Airways’ A380 [LHR to MAD]
We spent a while on the ground before we finally pushed back from the gate. At 3:35 p.m., the captain made an announcement apologizing for the delay and thanking us for our patience. About 10 minutes later — and 30 minutes behind schedule — we climbed out of Heathrow.
My seat was 13K — located approximately in the middle of the Club World cabin on the lower deck.
The business class seats on BA’s A380s are the old Club World seats that were first introduced in 2006, rather than the new Club Suite that is slowly being rolled out across its wide-body fleet.
The tight design features 8 seats per row in a 2-4-2 configuration. The old-school setup means that passengers seated in seat pairs A and B, D and E, F and G, and J and K face each other.
There thankfully is a partition that can be raised and lowered between seats, helping you avoid any awkward eye contact.
However, the partition must be lowered during take-off and landing.
Cabin crew will also lower the partition while serving those seated furthest away from the aisle, awkwardly passing food and drink over another passenger through the gap between the seats.
Bottom Line: British Airways is ramping up the rollout of its Club Suite, the airline’s new and highly competitive business class product. It plans to have all of its Boeing 777s retrofitted by the end of 2022, though unfortunately, the Airbus A380 won’t be receiving the update.
The second awkward thing about this seat is that passengers in seats that don’t have direct aisle access must climb over the footrest of the person sitting diagonally across.
For example, the first time I got up to leave my seat, I said to the woman with the white shoes that she didn’t need to worry about moving her feet for me.
Storage is limited to a small drawer. For a short flight to Madrid, I didn’t need much more.
There was plenty of legroom, though!
The tray table folds down from the right.
It unfolds to be double its size.
The seat itself can be reclined into the all-important fully-flat position. This is not the case onboard the narrow-body aircraft that BA typically operates on European routes.
Controls for the seat are just underneath the partition.
There are fixed settings for take-off, landing, and the fully-flat position, as well as the ability to customize the seating position.
Club World (Business) Cabin
As I mentioned before, I was sitting in the Club World cabin on the lower deck that is arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration with 44 seats. This is pretty cramped as the standard nowadays is more often than not a 1-2-1 configuration.
The middle 2 seats — E and F — are best if you’re traveling with a friend or partner. If you’re traveling alone and appreciate your privacy, I’d advise making sure to choose your seat before the flight to make sure you’re not sitting shoulder to shoulder next to a stranger.
I should also mention at this point that E and F face backward.
Overhead bin space is usually plentiful given that there are fewer passengers in the Club World cabin.
Food and Beverage
This is where the Club World experience came to an end and was swapped out for Club Europe.
Even though I was flying a long-haul, wide-body jet in a Club World cabin, it was operating on a short-haul, intra-European route, so inflight service reflected that.
An aspect of BA’s European business class food service that I don’t like is that the plastic and foil covers are sometimes left on for the passenger to remove themselves. That might sound a bit picky, but that’s exactly how food is served in economy on long-haul flights — not to mention the fact that the packaging takes up valuable space on the tray table.
To my delight, service started pretty much as soon as we got into the air. I was hungry as I didn’t have time to eat anything in the lounge.
True to form, I went for the classic English dish of bangers and mash with a bottle of bubbles to wash it down (and keep it classy). Despite it being the third or fourth time I’ve had it, I really enjoyed it.
The 2 other options available were rigatoni with aubergine (eggplant) or a quinoa salad.
You can always rely on Do&Co for a delicious dessert. I’d describe it is as a sort of white chocolate cheesecake.
As per usual, Nicholas Feuillate was the Champagne BA had on offer. I know it’s not often to the liking of Champagne connoisseurs, but I had no complaints.
Normally when flying BA Club, especially Club Europe, my next drink would be waiting before I’d even finished the current one. This flight was different, however, as I wasn’t even offered a second drink!
For landing, BA required passengers to pour their unfinished drinks into plastic cups.
It’s not just the seat and the cabin layout that were old school.
The antiquated IFE screens must be stowed for take-off and landing. I was asked to return the screen to the stowed position a whole 20 minutes before landing.
If you’re absolutely glued to what you’re watching, you can still just about see the screen properly if you lean against the cabin wall and crane your neck.
In terms of entertainment options, there were more than enough movies, shows, and documentaries to keep me entertained on this short flight to Madrid.
The cleanliness of both my seat area and the rest of the cabin was up to the standard I’d expect during a global pandemic.
As there was no sign of headphones at my seat, I asked a member of the crew for a set.
I was informed that there weren’t enough for every business class passenger, despite each passenger in business class having an IFE screen in front of them. I get that having IFE on a BA business class flight in Europe isn’t the norm, but it’s a bit of a tease being given an IFE screen and not being able to watch it.
I was lucky and managed to snag a set of average-quality headphones. They’re the exact same as you’d be given on a long-haul flight in Club World.
I was pleasantly surprised to be handed a World Traveller Plus (premium economy) amenity kit.
It includes slightly fewer goodies than a Club World amenity kit, but still includes niceties like a mini toothbrush and toothpaste, hand balm and moisturizer, and an eye mask.
There are 4 lavatories at the rear of the Club World cabin and the front of the economy cabin.
I didn’t actually visit those bathrooms, but I did pay a visit to the spacious bathroom at the front of the aircraft that would usually be reserved for first class passengers.
The interactions I had with the crew during the flight and meal service were limited in comparison to what I’d normally expect on a business class flight with BA.
I’d assume this was because the Club World cabin was pretty full and meant that the crew would have up to a maximum of 44 passengers to serve. This is significantly more than the average maximum of about 32 passengers they’d have to serve on a narrow-body jet that would usually operate short flights like this.
I did, however, manage to build a rapport with a crew member named Kimberly. She saw me rushing around excitedly taking pictures before we took off and said that once we were airborne she’d take me on a tour.
Kimberly was more than happy to spend some time showing me around the upper deck that was closed to passengers. I loved her enthusiasm for the A380, too.
Mask wearing at all times, with the exception of eating or drinking, was enforced. This was expected for pandemic-era flying.
To avoid crowding in the aisle while disembarking the aircraft, passengers were asked to stand up and file into the aisle 1 row at a time. This is a policy I’ve noticed that BA has maintained even as other restrictions have been lifted. I think this should be a permanent thing — it makes disembarking the aircraft a lot more organized than the typical free-for-all deplaning usually is.
We touched down just after 6:30 p.m. and pulled up at the gate at 6:40 p.m. We were 5 minutes ahead of schedule despite taking off around 30 minutes late.
We had to wait for what seemed like a very long time for the rail transit to arrive and take us to Madrid Barajas’ main terminal.
Once there, we were greeted by a crew of staff all dressed in white suits similar to hazmats. It was their job to check that all passengers had filled out the required passenger locator form for entry into Spain before being allowed to proceed to collect baggage.
A Tour of the British Airways A380
To finish off I thought I’d show you the rest of the Airbus A380 — let’s check it out!
This set of stairs is located at the front of the aircraft and led up to a second and smaller Club World cabin.
The first class cabin has just 14 seats and, as you’d expect, feels significantly more premium than Club World.
Seats are configured in a spacious 1-2-1 layout with E and F being the best seats for those traveling with someone.
Similar to Club World, the TV screens pop out for optimal viewing and have to be stowed for take-off and landing. Due to the angle of the seats, you don’t have to strain as much as you would in Club World to continue watching during these times.
The detailing is a level or 2 up on the luxury scale. The seats feature proper reading lamps and the fabric is a darker, sophisticated navy.
The space available at each seat is considerably more ample than in Club World and each seat has direct aisle access, meaning no awkward climbing over your neighbor in the middle of a flight.
The engine views from the first class cabin are also some of the best on the plane.
Club World on the upper deck also features a reduced number of seats per row compared to downstairs
You’ll find 55 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration.
Hot Tip: Of all of the 99 Club World seats on a British Airways A380, only 22 of them provide unrestricted aisle access: 10B/D/G/J, 14E/F, 15A/K, 50B/J, 51D/F, 53A/E/K, 56B/D/F/J, and 59A/E/K. SeatGuru is a fantastic resource to learn about how to view and select the best seats for your next flight!
World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy)
On my whistle-stop tour of the upper deck, I somehow skipped past the World Traveller Plus cabin and didn’t snap any photos (sorry!).
It’s located pretty much in the center of the cabin and seats are configured in a 2-3-2 layout.
In general, I’m a fan of BA’s World Traveller Plus. The extra space, additional recline, and upgraded food and drink service can be great value for the right price — especially on overnight flights.
Hot Tip: Upgrading to British Airways’ business class from premium economy is usually great value for money. Whether it’s cash or Avios, you’ll often get a much better deal than booking business class directly.
World Traveller (Economy)
Behind the Club World cabin on the lower deck is the largest of the World Traveller (economy) cabins.
The A380’s cabins are up to a meter (~3.2 feet) wider than other long-haul jets, meaning the 199 seats in their 3-4-3 configuration feel slightly more spacious than economy seats on other jets.
Upstairs at the very back of the jet, you’ll find 104 more economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.
Hot Tip: The A380 has a greater cabin width than the newer and more modern Boeing 787 Dreamliner that is usually configured with 9 seats across in a 3-3-3 configuration. So, in theory, economy seating on the upper deck of the A380 should feel more spacious than economy on the Dreamliner.
It had been over 2 years since I’d flown an A380, and this short flight to Madrid with British Airways definitely helped make up for lost time.
Having a Club World seat on a Club Europe flight was a special treat given that short-haul routes in Europe are rarely operated by wide-body jets with lie-flat seats.
The A380’s time on the London to Madrid route has now come to an end and is once again flying the long-haul routes it was designed for.
My experience flying this superjumbo from London to Madrid is unique, but it’s confirmed my preference for this aircraft over other long-haul jets. If I were given the choice of flying an Airbus A380 or a Boeing 777, I’d more than likely choose the former just about every day of the week.