A smooth ride across the Atlantic: A review of British Airways World Traveller Plus on the new daytime flight from Newark to London - The Points Guy

2022-10-26 14:00:43 By :

I have a secret to avoiding jet lag when flying across the Atlantic.

While most flights from the East Coast of the U.S. to London depart in the evening and arrive in the United Kingdom the following morning, there are a handful of daytime flights that depart in the morning and land in the evening of the same day. And I cannot recommend them enough.

These flights are commonly under six hours in length, so too short for a good night's sleep regardless of the cabin. But by taking a daytime flight I can easily stay awake for the fairly short trip, sleep in a real bed in London at a normal bedtime hour when I get there and wake up the following morning with no jet lag.

When British Airways recently announced a new daytime service to Heathrow Airport (LHR) from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), it became a prime opportunity for me to revisit the airline's premium economy service on my preferred schedule and see what the product was like these days. Here's how the experience went.

Related: Why I don’t think premium economy is worth the ticket price

British Airways operates two to three daily services from Newark to London depending on the time of year. While at least one service departs in the evening, the new daytime flight departs Newark at 7:55 a.m. daily, arriving in London at a civilized 7:45 p.m. It is scheduled at seven hours in length, though the flight is usually at least one hour faster than this because of the tailwinds.

Round-trip cash fares in British Airways World Traveller Plus (the formal name for its premium economy product) on this route start at $2,076 during the quieter winter months, about three times the price of World Traveller (economy) for the same dates.

One-way fares start from $940 in World Traveller Plus, or $586 in World Traveller, though you can expect to pay almost twice this much on busy summer dates.

There was good award availability for this new flight, so my ticket was booked using 26,000 Avios and $298 in taxes, fees and those pesky British Airways fuel surcharges for a one-way flight on an off-peak date. The fees, taxes and surcharges were paid with The Platinum Card® from American Express , which earns 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar on purchases made directly with airlines (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), picking up an additional 1,490 Membership Rewards points, worth $29.80 by TPG's current valuations.

You can earn enough Avios required to book this flight round-trip with a single welcome bonus. The British Airways Visa Signature Card earns 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months of account opening. There's also a 10% discount on British Airways flights originating in the U.S. when booking through a dedicated site, up to $600 per calendar year in statement credits for those frustrating award flight fees year, and the ability to earn a Travel Together ticket after you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. Cardmembers will receive a $100 statement credit per reward flight booking in economy (World Traveller) or premium economy (World Traveller Plus), or a $200 statement credit for all other reward flight bookings in business (Club World) and First.

British Airways has the frustrating policy of charging for seat selection in all cabins except First. Prices for my flight to London ranged from $60 for a center seat in the back rows up to $95 for a window seat in the front few rows of the cabin. Executive Club and Oneworld elite members, fortunately, can select their seats free of charge at the time of booking. So, with my Oneworld Sapphire status, I opted for a window seat in Row 18 at no charge.

I regularly fly out of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), but this was only my second time at Newark and my first time at Terminal B, which was quiet as the sun rose for my early departure to London.

Terminal B had check-in areas spread over three different levels which, as a new visitor, I found very confusing. It took me quite some time from Level 3, where my Uber dropped me off, to find the British Airways check-in desks, which were relegated to a back corner next to luggage belts down on Level 1 with LOT Polish Airlines and Icelandair.

Oddly, there was no separate queue for World Traveller Plus passengers, as the signage directed them to use the regular World Traveller economy lane. However, there were dedicated World Traveller Plus desks, but no World Traveller desks. With the low ceilings, basement-like atmosphere and odd setup, it was not a glamorous start to my journey.

I was helped quickly as there were few other passengers around. World Traveller Plus passengers receive two 50-pound checked bags though I avoid checking in my luggage wherever possible.

Given British Airways' impressive check-in setup at JFK Terminal 7, I think I'd choose JFK for my next departure from New York on the airline.

Security was very quick and I was through in minutes. British Airways' Newark flights operate from the B50-B58 gates pier, where the airline also operates its own lounge (immediately after security and up one flight of stairs). Lounge access is not included with a World Traveller Plus premium economy ticket, so instead, I wandered through the compact but pleasant terminal. I especially liked the huge dome where the gates were located as the sun rose on another New York morning.

There was plenty of seating around my gate area and a relaxed atmosphere.

Two boarding lanes were set up with groups 1 to 3 able to use the right lane, and groups 4 to 9 using the left lane. World Traveller Plus passengers were assigned to Group 3.

Boarding commenced slightly later than the scheduled time, around 30 minutes before departure, with groups 1 and 2 invited to board together, and after that was my Group 3. The flight departed slightly late but still managed to arrive around an hour early, as usual, because of the strong tailwinds.

The British Airways 777-200 aircraft that flew me to London had 235 seats in four classes of service. Behind First and Club Suites, there were 40 World Traveller Plus premium economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration across five rows. The cabin felt small and intimate, a key selling point of this cabin class compared with the large economy cabin behind me. The navy blue seats with herringbone fabric were smart both in appearance and their ability to hide stains and spills.

The seats were 18 1/2-inches wide, which was not overly generous given this was only 1 inch wider than the economy seats in the cabin behind, though I enjoyed slightly more elbow room thanks to the double armrest in between my seat and the one next to me. Legroom was 38 inches (normal for premium economy these days) and there was a comfortable fold-down footrest, though unfortunately, British Airways opted not to install leg rests on the premium economy seats.

The seat reclined a generous 8 inches. This is both a blessing and a curse: If you want to sleep, it's great to have your seat go back as far as possible, but it also means the passenger in front of you can recline a long way into your personal space.

The recline function was operated by a single button on the center console. Be aware that if you have a personal electronic device like a laptop open on your tray table, the seat in front can recline quickly and without notice, potentially damaging your device. You may wish to ask the passenger in front to give you a heads-up if you want to ensure any devices remain safe.

I liked how well cushioned the headrest was. The sides could be adjusted slightly in and out to cradle your head, and the entire headrest could move up and down and remain in place.

Storage was sorely lacking around the seat — beyond a large literature pocket in the seatback in front of me, there was nowhere else to place personal items. The bi-fold tray table, which stowed away in the center console, was large enough for my 13-inch Macbook, but you should forget about trying to work or watch anything on a laptop when the passenger in front has reclined their seat all the way.

Individual universal charging points were provided at each seat (with two in the center console I shared with my seat neighbor). There were also those odd audio-visual plugs I've never seen anyone use on an aircraft.

While the seat was not especially wide, and the lack of leg rest was a shame, it was still a comfortable and fairly well-designed seat.

Awaiting me on my seat was an (unwrapped) fleecy pillow and blanket, an amenity kit and a pair of plastic-wrapped headphones. Both the pillow and blanket were a good size and soft to the touch, despite initially looking a little disheveled on the seat.

The headphones were terrific and a real highlight of the flight, as they were comfortable, well cushioned and high quality, even though they did not have active noise-canceling functionality.

A basic amenity kit is an industry standard in international premium economy, and British Airways' version contained an eye mask, sleep socks, a toothbrush with a tiny toothpaste, a pen and Scaramouche + Fandango lip balm. The "washbag" pouch the items were housed in was made from recycled plastic bottles but looked far more stylish than the crumpled, recycled washbag Virgin Atlantic provides its premium economy passengers.

The 10.6-inch seatback entertainment screen could be tilted up and down at an angle, which was handy when the passenger in front was reclined. It was both touchscreen-operated and could be navigated with the dated remote control housed in the center console. There were 44 new-release movies available, including "Ambulance," "Marry Me" and "Lost City." Among the 24 television series box sets, I enjoyed a few episodes of the latest season of "Britain's Got Talent." Two USB charging points were provided under the screen for each passenger.

Wi-Fi was offered on my flight to London with three different packages available, from 4.99 pounds (about $6) for one hour up to 14.99 pounds (about $17) for the full flight, and limited to one device. The Wi-Fi speeds were the fastest I have ever registered on an aircraft — an astonishing 60Mbps download with a reasonable 4.03Mbps upload. This allowed me to be both very productive throughout the flight and also refresh the BBC news homepage regularly as this flight took place the day Queen Elizabeth II passed away, so I wanted to keep up with events.

Related: In pictures: The queen’s life in travel

There were, unfortunately, no dedicated bathrooms for World Traveller Plus passengers, so we shared the two immediately behind our cabin with the World Traveller economy cabin. These bathrooms were standard in size and amenities but were kept clean and as the flight was not full (a perk I've found on my daytime flights across the Atlantic), there was rarely a wait to use them.

Drinks were offered during boarding with a choice of sparkling wine, orange juice or water. I chose orange juice, which was served in glassware. No bottled water was waiting at my seat.

Flight attendants served the main meal of breakfast shortly after takeoff with a smaller second meal before landing. Breakfast consisted of fruit yogurt and fresh fruit with a choice of three entrees: scrambled eggs with sausage, bacon, mushrooms and tomato; cheese and chervil omelet; or apple pancakes with strawberry compote and vanilla anglaise.

In a vague attempt at a healthier option than sausage and bacon, I asked for the omelet. I was also offered a fresh croissant and my choice of beverage. I again selected orange juice.

A neatly arranged tray packed full of items was handed to me. The range of colors of my meal was visually appealing, though it was, in reality, just a neatly presented economy-class breakfast served on china with metal cutlery.

I've eaten countless airplane breakfasts like this over my decades of travel and it all tasted ... fine. The main dish was piping hot, though it was a little bland so I needed the salt and pepper sachets.

The crew passed through the cabin again to offer tea or coffee after the meal. I chose a coffee to keep me awake right through to London and I was surprised to see the hot drinks served in a takeaway paper cup. Given that the other drinks throughout the flight were served in proper glassware, I wish British Airways provided ceramic cups for these hot drinks.

About 75 minutes before arrival, the trolleys appeared again. The only choices were sandwiches with either chicken and cheese, or just plain cheese. They were served with a packet of sour-cream-and-chive baked pretzels and a choice of drink from the bar. I decided to raise a glass to the (now late) Queen Elizabeth II with a very British gin and tonic. British Airways serves Aviation Gin, which I like for both the name and the taste.

The small sandwich tasted fine and was stuffed with plenty of chicken — I just wish it had been larger. The second meal service on daytime flights this length tends to be too small for me, no matter the airline, and I was still hungry when we landed in London.

The crew members on my flight to London were all upbeat, welcoming and friendly. I found the service to be slightly more formal than in Virgin Atlantic's premium economy cabin, with the British Airways crew referring to me as "sir" with every interaction. There were no lapses in the service throughout the flight.

What I will remember most about this flight was that, 90 minutes before landing, I refreshed the BBC news homepage to learn that Buckingham Place had just announced the death of Queen Elizabeth II. I noticed a few shocked faces around the cabin as those passengers who had connected to the Wi-Fi during the flight learned the momentous news.

As the crew members wheeled the trolleys into the cabin around 15 minutes later for the second meal service, it appeared they had not been advised of the news by the captain as they were as chipper and full of smiles as ever despite some truly glum passenger faces in the cabin.

I was curious to see if and how the pilot might announce the news before we landed in London. It was definitely one of those "where were you when you heard the news" moments in world history, especially for anyone living in the U.K. (the death of Princess Diana and the tragedies of Sept. 11 being others I vividly remember). As we began our descent into Heathrow the pilot advised passengers of the queen's passing over the loudspeaker in a solemn, respectful and very British way.

As an avid traveler living in London, it felt oddly fitting to learn this news on a British Airways flight.

This was a solid premium economy experience on British Airways. The check-in area at Newark needs some work, and for that reason alone I would probably choose to fly from JFK next time. But other than that, it was fairly smooth sailing for the rest of my day across the Atlantic. I still prefer these daytime flights, and woke up at a normal time in my own bed the following morning without jet lag.

British Airways' World Traveller Plus seat provides decent comfort and legroom along with its deep recline and clever headrest. The Wi-Fi download speeds were the fastest I've experienced on a flight, making for a productive workday. The first meal was filling, if not refined, though the second meal was too small, as I have encountered on most flights between New York and London. The headphones, blanket and pillow were all more suited to business class than economy, which was a treat.

Having recently flown Virgin Atlantic's Premium on the same daytime route, I found British Airways to be slightly better mainly because of the superior seat recline, amenities, food quality and consistent service.

I still believe premium economy is overpriced for what you actually get, especially for cash fares two or three times the cost of economy. However, if you are choosing premium economy, British Airways is a smart choice.

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