Over the North Atlantic
I have never been able to fall asleep on an overnight flight, even in business class, because the seats don't fully recline. So I was the perfect guinea pig for British Airways' new Club World seats, the first business-class seat that folds into a flat six-foot bed at the touch of a button. The seats are part of the airline's "lounge in the sky" initiative, a $323 million project to revolutionize its business-class service—and pardon the pun, they work like a dream. But there are a few things you have to know going in.
- The seats are arranged in pairs, but they face each other. That means that when the seats are reclined your feet are near your seat-mate's head and vice versa. The thought, however, is more unappealing than the reality. I simply turned toward the window and my seat-mate toward the aisle, just as we would have done had we been sitting conventionally.
- On 747s the upper deck is better than the lower. That's because it has only 20 seats, whereas the main deck has up to 50, making it slightly claustrophobic.
- Window seats have the most privacy but face the rear of the plane (which bothers some people during takeoff and landing); and if you want to get up during the night, you have to perform gymnastics to get over your neighbor's footstool. But you would have to do the same in a conventional business-class window seat too.
- If you can't get to sleep, these seats are designed to make the night fly. Each is equipped with a personal reading light; a PC power point and telephone (British Airways is working on sky e-mail); a TV with an adjustable screen that can be watched lying down and has 18 channels (but no video on demand yet); a small cocktail table should you want to have a party for one; and great details like the little eyeglass storage pocket situated beside the headrest (when you're lying down) and the adjustable footstool, which connects to the seat as it moves into the bed position.
Lowering the seat, I discovered that at my height, six feet, I was too tall to lie on my back. (British Airways explains that their sleep experts found that most people sleep on their side anyway.) I also found the cushion a bit hard; but nonetheless, when I awoke at Heathrow, I could say that I'd had a good night's sleep.
Right now Club World seats are only on British Airways' New York-London route. They'll be installed throughout the route system over the next two years. Reservations: 800-247-9297. www.britishairways.com