Travel has been a big part of my life since I was born. Before coming to Canada, the country of my citizenship, I lived in two countries in Europe and we travelled frequently around the continent. Back then flying was glamourous. When my mother or father would take us on flights, we dressed up as if attending a formal event. Captains and flight attendants had a pseudo-celebrity status and people sat up a little straighter and gazed in admiration as they walked by, immaculately dressed in their fresh-pressed uniforms. One of my earliest recollections as a child was flying on British Airways with my parents and being treated like royalty. In the 40+ years that have passed since then, the rise of low-cost carriers combined with increased security measures has made flying more chore than treat, and often more stressful than enjoyable. I recently had the opportunity to fly with BA again in their long-haul business class, Club World, which re-ignited fond memories and a feeling that maybe, just maybe, flying could still be a luxurious treat.
Of course, it’s a far different experience to fly as an adult rather than as a child; one such benefit is being old enough to sample an airline’s wine menu. BA has long had a reputation for serving top quality champagne on their flights. Specifically, BA’s First-Class passengers receive the Laurent-Perrier NV Grand Siècle, the Champagne house’s prestige Grande Cuvée. A step above what most airlines serve in their first-class cabins and certainly something that set them apart early in this highly competitive aspect of the industry.
On my flight from Vancouver to London, BA served the Canard-Duchene “Cuvée Léonie”, in Club World. A Champagne House founded in 1868 in the village of Ludes on the northern side of the Montagne de Reims, Léonie was the House’s founder and the House’s name is borne out of her marriage to Victor Canard. For many years this Champagne was associated with Veuve Clicquot and then LVHM but is now part of the Thiénot Group.
I was curious (and hopeful) that they would also offer English Sparkling Wine as I had yet to try one and they’ve been garnering a lot of critical acclaim of late. BA was serving the 2015 Gusbourne in their First-Class cabin which they were kind enough to let me taste—I’ll certainly always remember that my introduction to this region was at 40,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic! Grapes for this wine are sourced from Kent, the English county just south of London. The 2015 is a blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 7% Pinot Meunier.
BA’s white wine selection featured two very good wines on both ends of the palate spectrum. The 2018 Chateau de Respide Bordeaux white blend from Graves is made up of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Floral notes dominate the nose while the citrus and tropical fruit flavours made this a lovely accompaniment with the Thai Prawn Curry I chose for dinner. They also offered the 2018 Chivite Finca de Le Gardeta, a single varietal Chardonnay from Navarra, Spain. A much more full-bodied wine compared to the Bordeaux blend but the lovely acidity on this wine managed to keep it relatively fresh and bright.
For the second time in as many months we have seen a single varietal Carignan being featured as a red option on a flight. Air Canada features one from Languedoc and BA has chosen to go with the 2017 Mas De Laveil Terre d’Ardoise from IGP Cotes Catalanes region, also in France. The estate is in Maury which is within a natural corridor through the Pyrenees at the foot of the Cathar Castle of Queribus. Known as a “workhorse” grape because of its high yields, it is often overlooked or generalized but clearly it is gaining favour amongst airline sommeliers.
BA chose from the new world for their second red wine offering which was the 2017 Lynx Petite Sirah Zinfandel blend from California. A rich and intense wine, it is ruby red in colour with notes of blueberry, dark cherry, and vanilla. This wine was a bit too overpowering for me and lacked complexity but wasn’t unpleasant by any means.
The last wine on the BA Club World list is the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port. A name synonymous with quality, this wine is called Vintage Style because the grapes used in this blend come from the same vineyards as those that the winery uses in their vintage port but is made as a Late Bottled Vintage. Always a crowd pleaser amongst fans of port and a perfect accompaniment to the onboard cheese plate.
The plane itself was the Airbus 380, the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft with an upper deck that extends along the entire length of the fuselage. Despite its size, it’s also one of the more environmentally-friendly aircraft made of 25% carbon-fibre reinforced plastic with lower emissions per passenger than its closest competitor. The first-class cabin features individual pods but the Club World seats were in a 2-4-2 formation. They did lie flat however for those passengers seated at a window or middle, you have to be reasonably flexible to step over your fellow passenger’s legs on the aisles if you need to get up while they’re having a sleep. The service provided by the cabin crew was very professional yet personal. No request was too small or odd; even the strange lady asking to take photos of all the wine!
2019 is a particularly auspicious year for British Airways as it celebrates its 100th Anniversary on August 25th. As you can imagine with 100 years under its belt, the UK’s flag carrier has seen a lot of changes. Its predecessor companies have included British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), British European Airways (BEA), British South American Airways (BSAA), Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. British Airways was formed when BOAC, BEA, Cambrian Airways and Northeast Airways Airlines were consolidated. In 2011, BA merged with Iberia forming the International Airlines Group (IAG), a publicly traded holding company listed on the London Stock Exchange that is now the world’s 3rd largest airline group. It is one of the founding members of the oneworld® alliance which includes thirteen airlines that provide service to 1,000 destinations in over 150 countries worldwide.
At 100 years old, tradition and experience has certainly taught BA that quality and service will always stand the test of time. Happy Centenary British Airways, you’ve certainly earned a Champagne toast for that!