Airline review: British Airways A380-800 economy class, London Heathrow to Chicago O'Hare

THE ROUTE

London Heathrow to Chicago O'Hare

THE PLANE

British Airways has a bewildering array of planes at its disposal, but the Chicago route gets the biggest of the big birds – the A380-800. There are 12 of them in the fleet, although passengers on the Heathrow – Singapore – Sydney route will usually be on a Boeing 777.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

The British Airways Executive Scheme has some interesting quirks, with the number of "Avios" points needed for a free flight based on a zonal system. This can throw up some bargains on short, otherwise expensive routes, especially when used on OneWorld partner airlines. Most Aussies, however, will credit the flights to their Qantas Frequent Flyer account.

CLASS

Economy, or "World Traveller" as British Airways prefers to brand it.

DURATION

The flight's supposed to last seven hours and 20 minutes, but there's clearly some creative accounting going on, as it takes off about 20 minutes late and lands five minutes early. It's almost as if the scheduler-makers know on-time take-offs from Heathrow are mythical creatures …

FREQUENCY

BA operates two daily flights between Heathrow and the Windy City.

CHECKING-IN

Almost all of BA's Heathrow flights operate from Terminal 5, which BA uses exclusively and had a big hand in designing. The large bank of check-in desks processes all flights, and the process is sped up by touch screens beforehand. I've checked in online, so it's just a case of dropping off the case and picking up the boarding pass. It's a zero grumble process, and goes about as smoothly and quickly as anyone could reasonably expect.

THE SEAT

75D, an aisle seat in the middle aisle, with a 3-4-3 configuration. It's 17.5 inches (44.5 centimetres) wide, with a pitch of 31 inches (78.7cm), which feels rather stingy – especially when the objectively evil person in front goes full recline within seconds of take-off.

BAGGAGE

 Up to 23 kilograms checked in. Hand baggage allowances are pretty generous: a cabin bag (maximum weight 23 kilos), plus a handbag/laptop bag. Given this, it's no surprise there's a bit of wrestling for overhead locker space.

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COMFORT

There are far more uncomfortable seats in the sky, but it does feel like British Airways has plumped for the smallest seat it can get away with here. Leg room is adequate for most, but shoulder room arguably isn't. A couple of pie aficionados seated next to each other are going to end up contorting for a few hours.

ENTERTAINMENT

The BA High Life magazine – a good, if somewhat bitty read – boasts that there are more than 900 hours of TV, movies and music to enjoy via the seat-back screen. There's a decent games selection, too. The programming strength is in UK shows you might not otherwise catch – Line of Duty, Derry Girls, Ghosts, Mum and Gameface are among the highlights. There's supposedly onboard Wi-Fi, but it seems to be on strike when I try to get it working.

SERVICE

BA seems to treat passengers as grown-ups, with service that's responsive but not mollycoddling. For the most part it's efficiently friendly, although one member of cabin crew does go the extra mile helping the woman in front of me search for her mislaid passport.

FOOD

There's no menu handed out, and it's a choice of tomato pasta or a pretty underwhelming tandoori chicken curry with basmati rice. The bleak-looking couscous salad appetiser turns out to be the unexpected star – it's refreshingly zesty. Later on, mini-Magnum ice creams and chicken Caesar wraps are delivered. There's a choice of two white and two red wines – the cabernet sauvignon is smooth but bland.

ONE MORE THING

It's a daytime flight, so amenity kits are scrimped on. It's just a set of cheap in-ear headphones – don't go expecting eye masks and ear plugs, let alone anything fancy like moisturising creams.

THE VERDICT

If British Airways were a sports team, it'd hang around just above mid table without ever winning anything. But when some of the transatlantic competition is measurably worse, it perhaps doesn't have to try any harder.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★ ½

David Whitley travelled as a guest of Choose Chicago. See choosechicago.com

See also: Retiring British Airways 747 breaks record for shortest ever jumbo flight

See also: Qantas' first redesigned A380 superjumbo takes off

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