European business class services get a rough ride in the media, especially compared to Asian airlines that fly A380 long range aircraft to cities that are just 40 minutes away. I hitched a ride with the ‘new and improved’ BA Club Europe from Alicante, Spain to London Gatwick to see if the hype has any substance.
Alicante airport, or by its official name El Altet, has sprawled in size over the past few decades as the popularity of Spain with European passengers has boomed. The airport is now a huge cavernous space with lots of retail, restaurant and bar space. The return of the rental car was easy, and most importantly on airport and no need for a shuttle. Drop your car into a space, wait for the rep to inspect and then walk through into departures – job done.
Once into departures it’s a familiar set up with check-in zones clearly displayed. I located the BA/Vueling/Iberia check in area and found the queue for Gatwick. Luckily there was priority check in for Club Europe passengers as the queue for Euro Traveller (economy) was pretty long and luggage heavy with holiday passengers.
The check in agent was pretty disconnected and furnished me with a boarding pass, but didn’t give any information on flight or lounge access. I already knew that there is only one lounge in ALC, called the VIP Salon, located after security – which was also really efficient and quick.
Once through, you walk straight to the end of the departure area (past the Burger King and football-fan-filled pubs) and take the lift next to the sports bar into the lounge. It’s a generic lounge used by many airlines and you can also pay a fee to enter.
The lounge overlooks the boarding gates, from which you can just about see some of the apron through the far windows but it’s not a plane geek’s lounge by any means. A good amount of comfortable armchair and sofa seating is on offer, with lots of charging points too. A meeting room and business centre area is also available for those wishing to catch up on some work after a weekend on the lash in Benidorm.
The food selection was a little odd, a mixture of breakfast items including yoghurt on the one side (it was 10pm) and sandwiches on the other side. In between was a huge selection of soft drinks. Beer, wine and spirits were also on offer, but as I was driving the other side, I just stuck to Coke Zero. Clean toilets were also available at the far end of the lounge. It certainly was a nice place to spend a few hours to escape the din of the departure lounge below.
A really organised boarding process began at the gate just below the lounge, with priority boarding being strictly enforced. It was a really heavy load on the flight today, due to a Champions League final football match in Madrid a couple of days prior.
A warm welcome from the crew and I settled into my row 3 aisle seat. In Club Europe the legroom is the same for every seat in the plane, but the advantage is that the middle seat isn’t occupied. Instead of another punter next to you there is a small tray table that folds out as pictured above. It also means that stowing your carry-on is really easy with less passengers.
A hot towel was offered, and a menu card also prepared us for the catering excellence we were about to receive. Three choices of main course, with static starter and dessert were offered.
After a smooth, on time, take off we were offered a speedy drinks service with a smile and plenty of resistance required to turn down the champagne. Two of every beverage were given out, and a pack of pretzels. All drinks were served in little British Airways branded glassware items.
After this, the attentive cabin crew member asked each passenger in order of status, then forward to rear if they would be dining and what their option would be. Luckily everyone had their meal of choice, with mine being a tasty mac and cheese. A starter of salad and a chocolate torte dessert were also offered, with cheese also available for those requiring a little more savoury. Water, still or sparkling, and another beverage were also provided, again with much encouragement to take the wine off their hands.
A very filling, tasty dining experience – all served on white china with metal cutlery in a crisp linen napkin – and not a piece of plastic or cling film in sight. It was especially impressive given the short flight time to the UK of just two hours.
Once the trays had been cleared, another round of beverages were offered, including coffee and speciality teas. I think it must be a record breaking 6 [mini] cans of Diet Coke were consumed by me on this flight.
As we touched down into a mild Gatwick airport for an on time arrival and a quick e-gate immigration experience made for a very easy, enjoyable run to the sun.