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A service that's Worlds apart

Are you sitting comfortably? In British Airways' excellent Club World cabin, almost certainly. BA first launched its industry-leading flat bed on the key London Heathrow-New York JFK route five years ago.

This link is the airline's biggest moneyspinner: passengers on it were first to benefit from the recent upgrade of the flat bed service, and it is likely to be the launch route for the next-generation Club World cabin that will be unveiled next year. Yet business passengers who start their journey in Manchester, rather than Heathrow, are stuck with the old "cradle seat" that began to be phased out five years ago. Theirs is the last aircraft in BA's fleet still to be equipped with the outdated business-class seating.

To increase their discomfort, passengers from Manchester are charged exactly the same per mile for a substandard service; a flexible Club World return ticket to New York costs £4,088 - slightly lower than the fare from London, yet because the flight from Manchester is shorter they end up paying the same for a standard that is more akin to a Premium Economy product than business class.

"Pricing is largely a product of the market in which we are operating," said a spokeswoman for BA. "If you look at a route on a cost-per-mile basis, traditional business routes such as Moscow and Angola tend to be more expensive than leisure routes. The Manchester-New York route has more of a business profile than the 10 services we operate per day to New York from London."

The airline expects that next month the Boeing 767 used for the service will finally be upgraded to what will then be the near-obsolete existing Club World cabin. But BA has opted not to reward its long-suffering Manchester passengers by putting them straight into the new Club World product. Instead, the aircraft used for the service looks likely to remain the poor relation of the BA fleet.

PASSENGERS KEEN to experience world-class business class from Manchester will be able to do so from 27 March next year, when Cathay Pacific returns to the city with a three-times-a-week service from Hong Kong, operated by an Airbus A340.

One drawback for travellers bound for Asia or Australasia is that the flights will stop en-route at Moscow's Sheremetyevo, probably the least pleasant airport in Europe. But because Cathay Pacific has "traffic rights" between Manchester and Moscow - that is, it is allowed to sell tickets between the two cities - it will provide a new fast link between north- west England and the Russian capital. Fares for the new four-hour flight have not yet been released.