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October 16, 2018

British Airways 787 Premium Economy review – Nashville to London

by Todd Sturm

In the last several years, British Airways (BA) has embarked on a North American expansion, made possible, in part, because of their fleet of economical 787 Dreamliners.

An aircraft suited to “long and thin” routes, such as Heathrow to Austin, New Orleans and Baltimore, the airline has taken full advantage of their Dreamliner fleet, deciding to fly their own metal across the Atlantic, rather than rely solely on their Oneworld connections with American Airlines.

Continuing their North American expansion, BA recently announced that they’ll begin serving Pittsburgh from Heathrow in April 2019, also with the 787 Dreamliner.

Not surprisingly, the British Airways brand has become quite popular in these secondary US cities. Places not traditionally thought of as trans-Atlantic gateways, yet big enough to support multiple weekly, or even daily flights on a 215 seat 787-8 or 787-9, BA has shown that these routes can, and do, work.

Image: British Airways

As British Airways has proven, serving smaller, economically vibrant destinations with little or no trans-Atlantic service, on an aircraft with just the right capacity, can be quite successful.

Case in point, British Airways began service to Nashville, in May of 2018. Offering five weekly services from Heathrow, word is that bookings are strong in all three cabin classes (Business, Premium Economy and Economy). In fact, at time of writing, British Airways announced that the Nashville route will go from five weekly, to daily, starting in March 2019.

A rapidly growing metropolis, with an airport in the midst of a $1.2 billion expansion and renovation, Music City USA is a market rich in both business and leisure travellers.

It would seem an obvious choice for new trans-Atlantic service given Nashville’s record population growth, high international tourist numbers and strong corporate business environment.

When time came for my own trip to London, I thought I’d give British Airways’ new Nashville service a try.

I booked a seat in Premium Economy, or as British Airways calls it, World Traveller Plus. This is my preferred cabin class when travelling, and I’ve had the opportunity to experience it on a number of international airlines in the last ten years. Naturally, I was anxious to see how British Airways measured up in this class of service.

As usual, US airlines are playing catch up, only now beginning to offer an international Premium Economy product. Not to be confused with the extra legroom rows found in regular economy, Premium Economy is a completely separate cabin, with more privacy, enhanced services, and greater space. As of now, American, United and Delta offer the cabin on only a handful of their international routes, and on a tiny portion of their respective fleets. It should be interesting to see in the next few years, as their Premium Economy product expands, how the US ‘big three’ differentiate themselves in the Premium Economy space.

As for British Airways, Premium Economy has been offered for several years now. Here’s how my British Airways flight from Nashville progressed.


At a glance

Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Route: Nashville (BNA) – London Heathrow (LHR)
Flight No: BA222
Cabin: World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy)


Check-in at Nashville (BNA)

It’s always a joy to fly out of Nashville International. Known as BNA, the airport is attractive, well laid out and a breeze to navigate.

The airport’s five-year expansion and renovation project is only in its second year however, so there’s bound to be some ‘excuse our dust’ signs coming up in the not too distant future. The day of my check-in however, the terminal building seemed unaffected by any construction. Much of the work seemed to focus on the new parking structure across from the departures area.

Check-in counter at Nashville International Airport. Image: Todd Sturm

As a point of interest, just near the British Airways check-in counter, there was a full-scale model of how the new terminal building will look when completed. The plans look impressive. To attract more international flights, a new international arrivals terminal is also in the works.

As for check-in itself, British Airways offered a separate check-in line for passengers travelling in World Traveller Plus. The British Airways staff member checking us in was friendly and efficient, checking our bags to Heathrow at no charge (the free checked-baggage allowance for Premium Economy guests is 2 bags per person, with a maximum weight of 51 lbs / 23 kg per bag). As we were in Premium Economy, the agent also placed ‘Priority’ tags on our bags.

Presented with our boarding passes, – seats 12J and 12K at the window – we made our way to security, and Terminal B for departure.


Lounge Access

Lounge access for qualifying passengers is available at the American Airlines Admirals Club, which is located in Terminal C (directly across from gates C11 and 12). The Admirals Club is open to British Airways Business Class passengers, as well as top tier British Airways, American Airlines and Oneworld frequent flyer members with Sapphire or Emerald status. Although the flight is in a separate terminal, it’s a short and pleasant walk between the Admirals Club and the departure gate.

For passengers without lounge access, Nashville Airport is filled with shopping and dining options, however much of it seems concentrated in Terminal C.  The offerings in Terminal B were rather sparse, but again, it’s a short and pleasant walk between the two terminals.


Boarding

Boarding started about 15 minutes late, but on this particular flight, the passenger load seemed small, and boarding was completed well before scheduled departure time.

British Airways boards the aircraft by zone numbers. Business Class and frequent flyers with elite status board first, in zones 1 and 2. Being in Premium Economy, but with no Oneworld status, we boarded in Zone 3 – but still, among the first to board. Economy guests board in zones 4 and 5.

Boarding by zone. Image: Todd Sturm

World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) seat

Aside the free baggage allowance, priority check-in, and priority boarding, one of the main reasons to fly Premium Economy is for the extra space – not to mention the enhanced meal and bar service.

The seat pitch (a measurement for leg-room) in Premium Economy is 38 inches, compared with a knee crunching 31 inches in Economy. The Premium Economy seat is roomier too, measuring 18.5 inches wide, compared with a very tight 17.5 inches in Economy. Yes, that extra inch does make a difference, especially on an eight-hour flight.

While Economy is configured in a cramped 9 abreast seat configuration (3 x 3 x 3), the Premium Economy cabin consists of just 25 seats, in a comfortable 7 abreast layout (2 x 3 x 2). The Premium Economy legroom (seat pitch), was a generous 38 inches. For those unfamiliar with this measurement, that’s more than enough room to stretch out and cross your legs, even when the person if front of you has their seat in the fully reclined position. Premium Economy seats also feature a foot rest.

World Traveller Plus seats. Image: Todd Sturm

Upon boarding we found a blanket, a small, thin pillow with a fabric pillow case, and a pair of noise-reducing headphones on our seat.

As we settled into our seats, the dedicated Premium Economy cabin staff offered us a complimentary sparkling wine, juice or water. Something US airlines might want to take note of, the drinks were served in glass – not plastic.


Entertainment

The Boeing 787 is a state-of-the-art aircraft, and the BA cabin reflected it with a fresh and modern look. Each passenger enjoys a personal touch screen for movies, TV shows, games and entertainment. I’ve seen much greater content choices on other airlines, but the selection of movies, shows and documentaries was ample enough to pass several hours.

Being touch screen, the entertainment system was easy to navigate and use. All-in-all, it was quite intuitive. While the same entertainment options are available in all three classes, the screen is slightly larger in Premium Economy, versus Economy. One thing I did enjoy was the flight map feature. The state-of-the-art map allows you to follow the route flown – in real time.

Touch screen for personal entertainment. Image: Todd Sturm

Meal and beverages

About an hour after take-off, the cabin crew came through with a bar and beverage service. All drinks were complimentary, and I chose a glass of red wine.

As a former airline employee, I notice everything when it comes to the hard and soft product onboard. I found it interesting that passengers seemed to get a mix of glass and plastic cups for their wine. While not a glaring infraction, I’d expect more consistency in a Premium Economy product. When the flight attendant served my wine, he merely plopped a plastic cup on the top of a mini red wine bottle. I asked for a proper glass, and he obligingly retrieved one from Business Class.

Earlier, the crew distributed the dinner menu-card which listed a starter, 2 main-meal options and a dessert. It was all served together, on the meal tray. The starter, or salad, was an Asian broccoli slaw with toasted sesame seeds – wonderful by the way. For the main meal, guests could choose between 1) ricotta filled chicken with marinara, herb fregola and garlic spinach, or 2) white vegetable lasagna with pesto cream sauce. I had the chance to try each, and both were delicious. On the menu card, the dessert was listed as “millionaire shortbread” but what was served on the tray, was a tiny plastic cup of Black Forest Gateaux.

Main meal in World Traveller Plus. Image: Todd Sturm

For Premium Economy, it would be nice if the flight attendant would first remove the foil from the hot meal, before serving. Not only does it improve the appearance of the tray, but it helps reduce unwanted rubbish when you’re trying to enjoy the meal. It was nice however to have a meal served on ceramic dishes, and with real cutlery too.


Last word

Overall, the flight attendants were friendly and attentive, the seat was comfortable and the meals were tasty.

Perhaps one area that could be improved upon was the cleanliness of the lavatories. As there is not a bathroom in the Premium Economy cabin, guests must use the facilities located in Economy. Combined, there are a total of 179 seats in Premium Economy and Economy, yet only 4 lavatories. Half way through the flight, the bathrooms were, shall we say, messy, with tissues and hand towels completely out of stock in the one that I happened to use.

I have flown on other international airlines whose cabin crew meticulously clean and stock the bathrooms on long flights (Virgin Australia is a standout in this area). Judging by my return flight to Nashville, which was much the same, I can assume British Airways does not require their cabin crew to monitor the bathrooms for cleanliness and stock issues.

All in all though, this was an enjoyable flight, and anyone living in the Nashville area would certainly appreciate the benefits that come with nonstop service to London.

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