- BA’s new San Jose (SJC) – London Heathrow (LHR) nonstop offers its standard (if a little long-in-the-tooth) Club World experience. It’s a solid product that hits all the basics, including a flat bed that’s decent for sleeping on the 11 hour flight
- The new 787-9 Dreamliner BA flies on this route is terrific in that it’s new, offers features that help provide a better night of sleep and reduce jetlag and fatigue, and has a 2-3-2 layout including a middle seat that’s actually preferred by some solo business travelers
- A very unusual take off pattern from SJC (see below)
- A smaller, simpler airport (than nearby SFO) and later departure time make this flight a very convenient option for Bay Area travelers, especially those located in Silicon Valley and the larger South Bay. Mineta San Jose International Airport is about 40 minutes south of SFO, depending on traffic.
- Nonstop, roundtrip fares from SJC to LHR this fall are in the range of $1,100 to $2,400 in economy; $1,500 to $2,600 for premium economy; $6,500 to $9,000 in business; and $8,000 to $15,000 for first. These fares are roughly the same as similar nonstop BA flights out of SFO. (NOTE: British Airways is currently offering upgrades to First for those paying certain business class fares and flying before Dec 23 2016.)
BA 278 SJC to LHR | July 20, 2016 | Club World (business class) | Seat 13K
This flight was provided by British Airways so that Travelskills could review the new route from San Jose to London. However, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.
British Airways launched this new route from San Jose to London in early May of this year. This is BA’s first time serving the San Jose airport and is the airline’s fourth destination in California (SFO, LAX, and SAN are the others). For Bay Area travelers, the SJC flight complements BA’s existing twice-daily flights to SFO, currently flown on an A380 and a B777. The San Jose flight is operated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which is a relatively new aircraft for BA. The flight currently departs SJC at 8:05pm and arrives at London Heathrow the next day at 2:15pm. The return flight from LHR departs at 3:20pm and arrives the same day at SJC at 6:10pm.
BA is one of several new long-haul international flight options that have opened up at SJC recently. Lufthansa recently started service to Frankfurt, Germany, while ANA now flies nonstop to Tokyo (Narita) and Hainan Airlines flies directly to Beijing. Last month, Air China began nonstop service to Shanghai.
SJC Airport Experience
The first thing you notice upon arrival at Terminal B at SJC, where BA is located, is how much smaller and easier to navigate it is than SFO. BA had several check-in lines open and it was easy to get through quickly.
After check-in, I headed to security, which was also very quick. While SJC does offer TSA Pre-Check, only a small number of international carriers (Air Canada, Aeromexico, Etihad, Lufthansa and WestJet) participate, and unfortunately British Airways isn’t one of them at this point. Thankfully, there was a dedicated line for first and business class customers and it was short and moved quickly.
Terminal B at SJC is modest in size, but is modern, open, and airy, with plenty of shops and restaurants. After clearing security near gate 27, I had to walk almost the entire length of the terminal to get to BA’s gate 18, and even further through a connector to terminal A to get to gate 15, where the lounge is located. (A nice workout before a long flight, right?)
At SJC, British Airways (and almost all other carriers) use a shared contract lounge called The Club at SJC, located near gate 15. Upon entry, I presented my business class boarding pass and was admitted right away.
I arrived at the lounge around 5:30pm, well in advance of our 8:05pm departure, but the lounge was already pretty busy. The lounge was light and spacious with nice views, one side looking out toward San Jose and the other looking onto the runway. There are two main rooms, one being more quiet as it’s designated as a cell-phone free zone, whereas the other one contains the buffet, bar, and cafe. The food selection at the buffet was pretty lackluster, consisting of pretty standard snacks you’d find in a domestic U.S. lounge from AA, UA, or DL — crudite, cheese and crackers, mixed nuts, popcorn, chips, fruit. In addition, there was a very limited selection of cut pieces of sandwiches, although they didn’t look very appealing. There’s a full bar with an assortment of beer, wine, and spirits, in addition to a self-serve soda machine and small bottles of water. Wifi in the lounge was free and seemed to work well with fast speed and a reliable connection. Power ports were also plentiful among the seating. Finally, the bathrooms in the lounge were a weak spot as they are small and outdated and weren’t very clean at the time I visited. There is a separate room where you can shower, although it was in use, so I couldn’t see inside it.
The flight had a posted delay of five minutes, seemingly due to a late arrival of the inbound aircraft from London. Even when running on schedule, the plane has just under two hours on the ground at SJC, which is pretty quick for a plane of this size — impressive that BA was almost able to keep us on schedule even with a late incoming aircraft! I headed down to the gate at the original boarding time and found it to be very busy with nowhere to sit. The gate areas in this terminal are pretty snug, so boarding a larger plane like the 787-9 definitely maxes out the waiting area. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long wait before boarding began. BA allowed a lot of time for pre-boarding and a number of people took advantage of that, including a surprising number of families with small children. The joys of traveling in the summer! General boarding followed the expected sequence of priority boarding by class and elite status and went very smoothly.
First impressions once on board were good. Being a new plane, everything looked clean and shiny — and the large windows on the 787 did a nice job of lighting up the interior so it was bright and welcoming. This plane is configured with all four classes of service — First, Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy), and World Traveller (economy).
The first class cabin consists of two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration for a total of 8 seats. BA’s first class seat has beautiful finishes and looks great, although the seat itself is compact and limited in privacy. Many travelers call BA’s first class “the best business class out there,” given that the seat is similar to what you find in business on airlines like AA (777-300), DL (A330), Cathay Pacific, etc. But it’s nice that BA at least offers a first class cabin on the SJC route, as the smaller 787-8 only offers business class.
Business class consists two rows in a “mini-cabin” directly behind first class, then another four rows in a larger cabin just past the lavs and galleys. Seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration with the seats against the windows, as well as the center seat in the middle 3-across section, facing backwards. This is a familiar layout to anyone who has flown BA in business before and it’s essentially the same seat BA has been flying for quite a while. What’s somewhat nice about the 787 is that the middle section only has three seats, so the middle seat is all by itself and offers a lot of privacy for a solo traveler. On other BA widebody aircraft, the middle section has four seats, including two coupled together in the middle — great for a couple traveling together, but far too intimate for two strangers who happen to be seated next to each other!
I took a quick look in the premium economy cabin, which felt nicer than I was expecting. It’s definitely a big step up from the “economy plus” type of extra-legroom seating that most of the U.S. carriers offer, with seats feeling a lot more like what domestic U.S. airlines have in first class. Finishes were nice, legroom looked good, and I like that you have a footrest to take the pressure off your legs on a long flight. The cabin is in a 2-3-2 layout, as opposed to the 3-3-3 layout in economy, so the premium economy seat is wider in addition to the extra 6 or 7 inches of legroom.
Back in the Club/business cabin, I took my seat. Waiting there was a blanket and pillow, along with a pair of noise-canceling headphones. After a few minutes, a flight attendant stopped by to offer me a pre-departure drink and a menu for the food service on the flight. Later, another flight attendant came by distributing amenity kits. The business class amenity kit on BA is nothing spectacular, but it offers all the basics and I happen to quite like the Elemis products it contains. It all comes in a somewhat unusual sack that feels a little like a shoe bag — I’ve never really understood why the bag is so large when you unfold it, as it doesn’t seem particularly useful for any other purpose. The kit contains earplugs, a pen, hand lotion, facial cream, lip balm, toothbrush/toothpaste kit, socks, and an eye mask. As I finished inspecting the kit, the safety video played and we began preparing for departure. At this point, I noticed that the business cabin was roughly three-quarters full, so there were plenty of empty seats where you could grab an extra blanket or pillow. Which was handy, because the pillow BA offers is on a the small and thin side, so definitely try to grab an extra if you can. I find the blanket to be quite large and just the right balance between being warm while not overly bulky or hot.
The BA business class seat was revolutionary when it was introduced in the 1990s as it offered a flat bed at a time when that was only found in first class. Today, the BA seat lags the competition, but it gets the job done. Given the 7-across seating on an aircraft where many other airlines only have 4-across, it’s definitely snug in terms of width. But it does recline into a fully-flat bed that I find sufficient for sleeping, which is perhaps the most important criteria for a business class seat. And if you can get one of the window seats, or that single middle seat in the center section, then you also have a fair amount of privacy. I would definitely try to avoid any of the four aisle seats, if at all possible. However, the downside of the window/middle seats is that you have to step over the feet of the person next to you if they happen to be reclined at the time. I don’t find it that hard to do and it’s worth the tradeoff to have more privacy, so I definitely prefer the window/middle seats. If you choose seat 13K on this flight, the window in the last aisle of business, you get the bonus of unimpeded aisle access, since there is nobody in the row behind you that you need to step over.
With the alternating forward/backward seat layout, there is a privacy partition between seats that you can move up or down. If you’re flying with someone, it’s actually a nice feature as you are essentially looking at each other face-to-face if you have the divider down. But if you are traveling alone, it can certainly be a bit awkward to have a stranger sitting there looking right at you! (The partitions must be in the down position for take off and landing, too. Hello, neighbor!)
The seat controls are simple and intuitive, allowing you to easily recline into a lounging position or go all the way flat for sleeping. There’s a controller for the entertainment system that you can detach from the wall and use in your hands, or you can just reach out and touch the monitor, which I find easier than pressing small buttons on the controller. The video screen itself is on the small side at roughly 10.5 inches. There are two power ports for charging devices, including a versatile plug that can accommodate USB or many common plugs, including U.S. style. The screen pops out from the wall of the pod, but it must remain stowed during taxi, takeoff, and landing, so you can’t watch programs gate-to-gate. Beneath the monitor is the meal tray, which also pops out from the wall of the pod. Finally, you have a decent-sized storage drawer near the floor with plenty of room for devices, amenity kit, headphones, etc.
One last noteworthy feature of the seat is the window. As is standard for the Dreamliner, the windows are clearly larger than other aircraft, making for some great views and providing generous sunlight. There’s also the standard button for electronically dimming the window. It worked fine for me, and this seems to be a feature that some people like and others don’t. I’m indifferent, although I didn’t love the fact that it took almost a full minute for the window to completely darken when I was ready to go into sleep mode.
Takeoff consisted of a zigzag pattern out of the Bay Area and afforded for some incredible views as the sun was setting.
Shortly after takeoff, I perused the entertainment selection of the on-demand system. It had a fairly typical assortment of movies, including many newer releases, TV shows, music, games, etc. Menus were easy to figure out and the system was quick and responsive. I watched Zoolander 2, which was really funny and much better than expected! Unfortunately, this aircraft, and all aircraft in the BA fleet, currently do not offer WiFi — although they have recently announced plans to start adding super-fast WiFi to their transatlantic fleet in 2017.
Flight attendants came around with hot towels and then came back to offer drinks and nuts. The nut mix was in a package, as opposed to the warm nuts in a ramekin that AA and some others provide, but they were still tasty.
Meal service then began with a choice of starters, a salad, and fresh warm bread from a basket. It seemed a little strange that one of the two starter choices was a salad, meaning that if you select it, you have a starter salad and also a separate salad course before the main entree. But both salads were very good, consisting of fresh ingredients that tasted good and which were attractively plated.
For the main entree, you had a choice of filet of beef, Atlantic salmon, Pappardelle pasta, or yet another salad. Yes, it’s possible to have three salads in a single meal, perhaps a nice option for those who avoid meat. I had the salmon, which didn’t look so great with the liquidy sauce and fairly monochromatic pallet, but it actually tasted pretty good. I’ve often had fish on a plane that is overcooked and dried out, but this one was moist and seemed fresh. Dessert consisted of only one choice, a cheesecake brownie, which was good, or you could opt for a cheese plate.
Service was complete around two hours into the flight, which seems pretty typical. For a flight that departs at 8pm, I would expect that most people would want to sleep pretty quickly, so it would be nice if BA offered either a pre-flight dining option or some kind of express meal service on board the plane. Still, finishing service around 10:30pm San Jose time is pretty reasonable in terms of people then sleeping at a normal bedtime. The crew dimmed the lights after service was complete and it seemed like most people slept for a majority of the remaining seven hours of flight time.
The crew was active during the meal service, but then you rarely saw them after that. I think that’s a good thing, as the cabin stayed nice and quiet for sleeping. Flight attendants throughout the flight were professional and efficient, although they weren’t particularly warm or chatty. Nobody addressed me by name or struck up conversation or anything else to go above and beyond performing their required duties. Again, I think that’s perfectly fine, especially for business class. I certainly did not encounter any crew members who were cold or rude in any way.
While the cabin was dark, it remained quiet and there was minimal traffic up and down the aisles. This is also the point of the flight where I could really feel the differences of the Dreamliner, namely the more humid air and the higher pressurization. Even after five hours of flight, I didn’t have the normal altitude headache or dried out skin and airways that I normally feel on a long haul flight. This benefit was felt for the duration of the flight and my body definitely felt much better the day after the flight, as well. This alone makes me a big fan of the Dreamliner to the point that I would seek it out for future long-haul flights, if available.
BA offers a “club kitchen” area within the galley where you can stop for a snack or drink if you have a craving during the night. The selection is modest, but comes in handy when you just want something quick and simple without any hassle.
The lavatories in business class are basic, but functional. Unlike the A380, which offers some very large lavs, they are quite small on the 787-9.
Around 90 minutes prior to landing, the crew began breakfast service. An assortment of beverages was offered, including coffee, tea, fruit juice, and a smoothie, followed by choice of fruit plate or greek yogurt. Flight attendants also came around with a pastry basket before serving the entree, which was a choice of a full English breakfast, an asparagus and mushroom frittata, a continental breakfast of cheese and eggs, or a hot breakfast sandwich. I had the frittata, which was surprisingly good.
After breakfast, the crew prepared the cabin for landing. The approach to Heathrow was routine and we were at our gate in T5 a few minutes early, despite our slightly delayed departure. We disembarked from the forward door, and even though I was in the last row of business class and had to walk to the front of the plane, I was off the plane within 10 minutes of arrival at the gate.
Since I was connecting onward to Germany, upon leaving the plane I followed the clearly marked signs for connections and took advantage of the Fast Track lane offered to BA first and business class passengers. Heathrow T5 is notorious for long, slow security lines, but this was one of the better times I’ve passed through there. It took roughly 20 minutes to completely clear security, allowing me a quick visit to the BA Galleries Lounge before proceeding to my connecting gate. The lounge is very large (and there are two separate business class lounges within the main T5 terminal) and has a wide variety of snacks, drinks, full buffet of hot food options, free wifi, bathrooms, and showers. The lounge was busy, but not packed, during this visit, so it was easy to find seating and an empty power outlet to charge up my electronics.
I love that BA has an Elemis Spa within their lounge in T5 and business class passengers are entitled to a free treatment, with a choice of a few quick, basic therapies such as shoulder massage or facial. However, in my experience, open appointments tend to be scarce. While I didn’t really have enough time on this short connection to enjoy a service regardless, on my return flight I had a 3.5-hour layover in T5 and the spa didn’t have a single appointment available during that lengthy interval. Too bad, because in the past when I have been able to get an appointment, that quick shoulder massage can do wonders for the body.
This was a solid business class experience on BA. The flight itself was pretty routine with the standard BA seat, food, entertainment, etc. The crew was good and, while not standing out as particularly engaging, performed their duties and took good care of passengers.
However, the Dreamliner aircraft was a definite plus as it’s new and quiet and is easier on the body with improved air and pressurization. That alone would be a good reason to take this flight on a long-haul trip to Europe relative to competitive offerings with other carriers. Add in the benefits of the easy-to-navigate San Jose airport and a later departure time that allows for a full day of work prior to the flight and, for many, an easier time sleeping after the meal service, and this new BA flight is a great new option for Bay Area travelers.
Have you flown BA from San Jose? Would you? Please leave your comments below.
Note: British Airways covered the cost of air travel on this trip. The write covered the cost of hotels, meals, transfers and other related expenses.
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