By Alex Macheras
The A350-1000 XWB is fast becoming the Airbus widely flagship. The aircraft, already in service with launch operator Qatar Airways, and second operator Cathay Pacific, this week entered service with the UK’s national carrier, British Airways — and Aviation Analyst joined British Airways chairman and CEO, Alex Cruz, for the world’s first BA A350 flight, from London Heathrow to Madrid, Spain.
Nearly 300 A350 jets (an aircraft family of two variants: A350-900, and A350-1000) have already been delivered to over 50 airline customers worldwide. Operators include Finnair, Thai Airways, Air Mauritius, Delta Air Lines, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa.
IAG — the parent company of British Airways — intends to have at least 38 A350 jets in service by 2023. British Airways has 18 A350-1000s on order, Iberia has 16 A350-900s, and Aer Lingus has nine A350-900s.
The A350 XWB is made with 53% composite material and a total of 70% ‘advanced materials’ combining titanium and aluminium alloys. The use of composite material allows for significant weight savings, which benefits the airline in terms of fuel savings, and lowers the carbon emissions per passenger.
In a conversation with BA’s CEO Alex Cruz, he told me “This aircraft marks a significant milestone as part of our £6.5bn investment programme, and we’re truly excited to be able to launch ‘Club Suite’ on this new Airbus long-haul jet.” The newly-branded ‘Club Suite’ is the most significant upgrade to BA’s ‘Club World’ business class in over a decade.
The seat is a customised version of the Rockwell Collins Super Diamond flat-bed seat, the same seat model as Qatar Airways 787 Dreamliner Business Class seat. It compromises of a variety of materials, predominantly coloured in darker tones with ash-grey blend touches. ‘Club Suite’ cabins (finally) offer direct-aisle access, with a 1-2-1 seating configuration — nearly ten years after such a concept was introduced on competitor airlines.
My suite for the flight was 2A, the second row of the aircraft.
What particularly impressed me was the ‘Club Suite’ seat features, specifically storage. Compartments and hatches house all USB and universal power sockets, and even when the compartment door is closed, the design allows charging cables to be able to pass through thanks to a 2cm gap. In addition to the vanity closet and mirror, and a responsive 18.5-inch inflight entertainment screen, the suite is equipped with a sliding door.
The door itself is relatively low in height compared with other airlines’ suite doors, it’s more of a privacy divider — but while the door feels low when seated upright, or dining, it’s great for privacy when the seat itself was in the full-flat mode. Laying down, I couldn’t see any passing passengers, which helps create a calming and quieter seat area.
While the cabin design and colour palette used is relatively corporate and lacks warmth in some areas — it has to be said that I found the overall appearance to be incredibly elegant, with trim and finish details and a blend of hard and soft materials used to create a high-class London hotel feel to the cabin space. The aircraft itself is well connected — with onboard Wi-Fi (that worked very, very well) and a good range of inflight entertainment.
However, I believe British Airways has missed a great opportunity in declining the Airbus option of installing a tail camera — a feature over 70% of Airbus A350 airline operators have installed, and viewable over the inflight entertainment. Tail camera viewing is popular among passengers who fly the A350, as it provides a unique perspective in being able to view what surrounds your jet. Like other A350 operators, the ‘spacious’ feeling is present throughout all cabin classes, but the feeling of airiness would have been more so had BA not opted for central overhead lockers in Business Class.
The rationale here is that in 1-2-1 configuration, four individual lockers per row (each of which can hold at least 3 and luggage suitcases) simply isn’t necessary. In turn, the cabin ceiling would have been significantly higher. Having been a part of nearly every single A350 delivery, airlines who have chosen not to have central overhead lockers in business class tend to benefit from an unparalleled airy atmosphere you simply cannot find on any other widebody aircraft.
The flight to Madrid was smooth, the service was excellent (as you’d expect it to be on such an exclusive flight), and in true A350 style… it was quiet. Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB engines have proven ‘extremely reliable’ since entry-into-service, and the Trent XWB is one of the cleanest engines in the world. The A350-1000 XWB at British Airways will fly initially to Madrid, before venturing further afield on routes to Dubai, Toronto and Tel Aviv from September.
In between Doors 2L and 2R, a new ‘Club Kitchen’ has been installed — a walk-up area for Business Class passengers to choose snacks/drinks inflight. In World Traveller Plus, the Premium Economy cabin offered by British Airways — a brand new seat is debuting on the new Airbus jet. The World Traveller Plus cabin (56 seats) has new furnishings including a new pillow and quilt, new amenity kits, as well as improved dining. In Economy Class, the existing World Traveller seat has been installed — the same seat you’ll find on BA’s refurbished aircraft.
Upon touchdown in Madrid, the home of BA’s parent company IAG, the cabin crew welcomed all passengers to Madrid, “for the first time in history, onboard a British Airways A350” the purser added.
After several years since the aircraft order was first placed, it’s great to see British Airways finally take delivery of a new Airbus flagship. For BA, passenger satisfaction is likely to improve — even in Economy where there hasn’t been any real design change to the interior — thanks to the boosted level of passenger experience an A350 is able to offer.
The highest ceiling (95 inches) in the industry, vertical sidewalls (meaning a less ‘tube-like’ environment), largest overhead luggage bins on the market, 20% more fresh air than 787 with entire air in the cabin renewed every 2 to 3 minutes (versus every 15 minutes on older aircraft) and full LED ambient lighting consisting of 16.7mn different colours — a new air travel experience has arrived for British Airways customers, especially those who haven’t yet flown on the A350 with the 50+ other airline operators who use this aircraft type for domestic, international, and even ultra-long-haul flights.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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