British Airways are going through a process that they call 'densification' of their Airbus 320 and 321 fleet. In plain English we'd call it cramming more seats into the aircraft. The Airbus A321 will have an additional two rows added, more space will be made by moving the rear toilets from their current location just before the rear doors and instead use half the space of the rear galley. There will still be two toilets in the rear, but these will be smaller than before.
G-MEDN is the first of the British Airways A321 fleet to be densified. The aircraft was previously in a 'midhaul' configuration that was inherited when BA took over bmi in 2012. The midhaul fleet had lie flat business class seats and had at seat entertainment screens at every seat both in business and economy. They were designed for routes from Heathrow to the Middle East. Unfortunately BA had more midhaul aircraft than needed so they are in the process of converting some of them into shorthaul. If you are flying an A321 to the Middle East you should still get a midhaul config aircraft.
The current BA shorthaul fleet have two toilets at the front of the aircraft, the former bmi aircraft only have one. The refurbished aircraft only has one toilet at the front but that doesn't indicate whether or not BA will remove a toilet when they refurbish aircraft that have two fitted.
It had been rumoured that the airline was going to be fitting seats that were thinner than the existing ones to the rear rows of the aircraft, leaving the current style seat only in the front 13 or so rows. I had travelled in a slimline seat with easyJet at the beginning of the year and did not find it comfortable, it was also rumoured that the seats would no longer recline. This turned out not to be the case. The seats are the same style as installed in the current shorthaul fleet and they can recline except in rows where recline isn't usually possible such as the row in front of the exits.
Starting at the front, Club Europe (shorthaul business class) looks the same as it does on the existing shorthaul fleet. There's a table in each row blocking the middle seats (as in Club Europe the middle seats are not sold to give more space) and there doesn't appear to be any changes to the front galley. There's one row extra before the first emergency exit (9 rows rather than 8) as there is room for this due to only one forward toilet.
The key things to watch out for:
- There's no window in the final row of the aircraft (row 37)
- The last two rows (36-37) have slightly narrower seats due to reduced width at the rear of the plane
- There's still no WiFi on onboard entertainment system (some airlines have an entertainment system similar to BEAM you can access on your own devices using WiFi even if they don't yet provide internet access over WiFi)
- Although there was rumours that this refit would include USB charging points there was none in my row or any other row I checked
- Although the galley space is limited in the rear of the aircraft due to space being used for the toilets there's still facilities to heat up food here and dispense hot water. There's enough trolley storage space that a trolley run can be commenced from the rear (in economy on an A321 they normally have two trolleys one from the front and the other from the rear)
- Although the new toilets were cramped I still found them usable (6ft3in)
- There's not enough space on these aircraft for the duty free trolley, despite this there was a copy of the inflight shopping magazine in each seat pocket
- I sat near the back (row 36) I couldn't say for certain whether legroom has been reduced, it may have been slightly. Most of the time when I travel I'm lucky enough to either get row 1 or an exit row seat
- Although the crew were still getting used to this new configuration it didn't seem to slow down the service at all
- There's no screens, so no moving map
- Neither of the rear toilets had a table for baby changing
The new seatmap shows a total of 37 rows compared to 35 rows in the existing shorthaul A321 fleet.
Here's the galley. On the original A321 configuration the entire area would be used for storing trolleys and other catering facilities, on the new aircraft this has been reduced to half the size and the other half is taken up by two toilets. What's amusing is there's a crew seat attached to the toilet door, you get the feeling that they've found a way to utilise every single bit of space.
This is inside the larger toilet (the one that you can see in the galley picture above), there wasn't much space to move around and take this photo.
Apart from the rear galley and the toilets contained within that area it looks and feels like any other shorthaul BA aircraft, the aircraft does have mood lighting but it wasn't in use when this photo was taken
View from row 36 (there's no window in row 37, the final row)
Just to compare, here's the back row
Compulsory legroom shot (row 36)
British Airways are taking delivery of new A320neo and A321neo aircraft. NEO stands for New Engine Option and these aircraft will be more fuel efficient than the current aircraft. In the meantime the existing A320 and A321 aircraft (sometimes now referred to as 'ceo') will have this densification work performed on them, the new style rear galleys (called 'SpaceFlex' by Airbus) will be on all the new deliveries. It is an option that's now used by most airlines ordering shorthaul aircraft. Lufthansa is an example of a major airline that is already operating the A321neo.
The refit wasn't as bad as I feared, the new thinner seat that had been rumoured did not make an appearance and although the toilets were cramped they were still usable. The biggest annoyance was there's no WiFi or entertainment system. Hopefully this is still planned to be fitted along with USB sockets so we can keep the devices charged up.
The rest of the day
The day involved getting the Heathrow Express to Terminal 5, taking flight BA1440 to see the new aircraft configuration, spending some time in the Edinburgh lounge and then back to London (this time City Airport) on BA8709. More info on my day of travelling here.