A Stellar First Class Experience on British Airways (Trip Report)

British Airways, Trip Reports

On Tuesday, I wrote about my experience flying in World Traveller Plus premium economy to London. The way home was a completely different kind of experience. British Airways put me in First Class. [BA paid for this trip.] Unlike the spotty service on the way out, this experience was exceptional.

My First Class Suite Upon Arrival

I went online in advance and specifically requested the seat that came with Rachel Weisz in it, but I had to settle for 2K instead. I checked in on my mobile the day before (in between our Olympic events) and saw 1K was open, so I grabbed it.

I decided that I would go to the airport on the early side so I could enjoy the facilities. Johnny Jet was on the flight with me, so we set off on the tube to Paddington where we rode the Heathrow Express to the airport. Though I didn’t need to check in at the airport, the airline dork in me really wanted an old-school boarding pass with 1K on it. I walked over to the southern end of the terminal where BA has a dedicated First Class check in. The agent warmly greeted me, handed me my boarding pass, and explained how to get to the lounge.

Dedicated First Class Check In

I went straight through security where there was almost no line. I did, however, set off the metal detector and got a thorough frisking. The whole thing seems very inefficient to me. They hold up the rest of the line while the one security agent does the frisking. At least I didn’t have to take my shoes off.

After getting through, there was a discreet door on the right side that’s only for First Class customers. It leads straight into the Concorde Room. Everyone else, even business class passengers, have to go down and up again through the maze of shopping that is Heathrow before reaching a different set of lounges. (This is a frequent complaint I’ve heard.)

Private Dining Area in Concorde Room

I’ve written about the Concorde Room before. It’s a great place dripping with Britishness. The dark woods and low lighting are certainly appropriate for the discreet passenger. I wondered about the story behind every person I saw in there, because only First Class passengers are allowed. Johnny and I headed over to the private dining area where we sat in a tall booth and had breakfast. (I had a little lox and scrambled eggs.) Then we walked out on to the expansive balcony which overlooks the passenger terminal below and the aircraft and runways beyond. It’s a perfect spot for airplane-watchers.

View From the Concorde Room Balcony

Soon, I decided to make my way to the gate, so I took the train across the the B concourse where I found a mess of people. They seemed to be pre-boarding but everyone was crammed around the boarding area. I waited patiently and about 5 minutes later made it through.

August 3, 2012
British Airways 283 Lv London 12p Arr Los Angeles 305p
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate B42, Runway 27L, Depart 9m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 102, Runway 25L, Arrive 8m Early
G-BNLN, Boeing 747-436, BA Flag colors, 100% Full in First, rest unknown
Seat 1K
Flight Time 10h14m

Walking down the corridor, I got the first glimpse of our airplane. I was thrilled to the see the odd plugged windows in the front cabin, the telltale sign that our aircraft was equipped with the new “Prime” First Class offering.

There were two flight attendants pointing people to their seats at the door. Upon seeing my boarding pass, one told the other to escort me to my seat, and she did. You know you’re in for a good experience when you turn left at the boarding door instead of right. But turning left and walking through an entire cabin of business class before getting to the private front cabin is a whole different experience.

BA First Class Cabin on the 747

The cockpit’s location on the upper deck makes the nose of the 747 one of the most unique experiences in commercial aviation, a place where you actually sit further forward than the pilots. I’ve been there before but only on Lufthansa and Air New Zealand, both airlines that have business class there.

The new onboard product is truly impressive in the first impression it gives. The oval windows have been covered by electric blinds along with a round, dim light at each seat that makes you feel like you are not on an airplane at all. The seats are angled slightly toward the outside. Since the nose comes to a point at the front, the angle of the window along with the seat means that you look out the windows by looking nearly straight ahead. It’s a great view, especially with the pretty broken clouds and sun coming in that morning.

There is a closet at the front for everyone in the cabin to use and there are, of course overhead bins. I put my gear up top and then found my own little closet next to my seat where I could put my laptop bag.

My Own Closet

There is a tremendous amount of personal space in these seats, though they aren’t the private suites with a door like you’ll find on some middle eastern and Asian airlines. It certainly wasn’t a problem for me. The flight attendant came by and asked if I would like something to drink. I opted for what I can assume was absurdly-expensive champagne. And oh, it was good. (Not that I really know my champagne, but . . . .) The flight attendant also asked if I would like a sleep suit. I did hope to get a little early morning sleep since it was still the middle of the night at home, so I said yes.

At this point, I took note of my surroundings. Holy crap. Wait . . . was that …? Sure enough, Buzz Aldrin strolled up and sat in seat 2K right behind me. Though I wanted to immediately jump up and down like a little kid and say hello, I just assumed that’s not what people want when they fly First Class. I did briefly say something after we landed and he was very gracious.

We took off and the lead on the flight came up to personally welcome everyone in First Class. I had put my Executive Club number in the reservation so I could easily pull up my trip (no mileage earning, of course) and he said he had a note from the Executive Club to thank me for flying. Nice touch. Flight attendants came by and took drink orders and brought some nuts.

Once the seatbelt sign was off and we were climbing, the inflight entertainment system kicked on. (I wish it started on the ground.) I watched a TV show and then decided to try to nap. I took my sleepsuit to the lav with the slippers they gave me and changed into my suit. The flight attendant asked me if I would like her to make my bed. I said yes.

I emerged from the lav (which has a window that frosts over when the door is unlocked) in my stylish pajamas. I’m sure everyone was thankful I was wearing this instead of underwear and a t-shirt. My bed was ready so I laid down and flipped on a movie to see if I could drift off. I got a little sleep but not much, as usual.

Flight Attendant Made Up My Bed

While this system was somewhat light on music and TV shows, it did have plenty of movies to flip through while the light chop bounced us around a bit. I pulled out my large tray table and started to do a little work. I had started to get hungry, but my goal was to keep waiting until it was closer to lunch time at home. In First Class, there are no meal times. You can order whenever you’d like from the menu so I waited, realizing that I might not get my first choice.

Nearly halfway into the flight, I had yet to really take advantage of what First Class had to offer. It was now about 8a back home so I figured that was good enough. I ordered an 18-year Glenlivet and played some games on the very slow entertainment system. (For the record playing the British version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire as an American is virtually impossible. Did you know that a Welshman can sometimes be called a taffy? Neither does anyone else in the US.)

Glenlivet 18 Years

At 930a LA time, I decided it was time to eat. The flight attendant in the galley was incredibly apologetic saying she wasn’t aware I hadn’t eaten and apologized for not having all options. I hadn’t expected a lot of choice since everyone else had eaten anyway, but she did have one serving of the braised British beef left, so I chose that. She said it would take about 30 minutes and she’d bring it right to me. I went back to watch another movie, this time sticking with the Olympics theme and watching Chariots of Fire for the first time.

Ice Cream Sundae

Sure enough, in about 30 minutes, the flight attendant came back and set the table for me. I had a tasty beef dish with a nice Bordeaux wine and then finished it off with an ice cream sundae. Mmm, delicious. After that, I settled in to finish the movie, but everyone else seemed to be looking to doze off. I tried to fight it since that wouldn’t help me get back on LA time, but I did drift a little. The windows were all shut and the soft blue lighting overhead and illuminating the window shades made it hard to stay awake. (That second glass of Glenlivet didn’t help either.)

Eventually, I finished the movie (after rewinding a little while to catch what I slept through) and then I was left with about 2 1/2 hours until landing as we passed over Calgary. I figured I would try to squeeze in another movie, so I picked a short comedy. About an hour into it, the flight attendants came through with afternoon tea, something that I think we need to adopt in the US immediately. A few finger sandwiches and desserts later, I was thoroughly stuffed. I decided to get up and change back into my clothes. With two lavs for 12 people, there was never a line, though I didn’t always get the good one with the window. I came back and finished up the movie with about 40 minutes to go in the flight.

Afternoon Tea Before Landing

The captain came on to tell us it was a beautiful day in LA and we would be landing on time. He let us know that we were coming in from the north (same way we flew out) and so there would be a nice view of LA on landing. He also apologized for the turbulence we had earlier in the flight since he said all airplanes at all levels had experienced it. I found that rather funny because while there were some light bumps, the seatbelt sign never went on. I bet those flying on US carriers, however, had a lot of seatbelt time.

First Class Seat in Takeoff/Landing Position

After that, I brushed my teeth using the gear in the amenity kit, came back to my seat, and did a little more work until we started descending. I was surprised to see some thunderheads and we weaved in and out of the clouds. I was amazed that when it started to rain, you could really hear it hitting the nose. But we got through it quickly and soon found ourselves on the ground.

It was a long walk to customs and immigration but it was only a short line. Soon I was out on the street and on my way home. This flight was excellent throughout. The service from the flight attendants was very good, and very British. Of course, that’s what you want when you fly BA.

[See more photos from my trip to the Olympics]

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

40 comments on “A Stellar First Class Experience on British Airways (Trip Report)

  1. OK I’ll be petty and point it out, need to add the word ‘up’ to that sentence “””””Though I wanted to immediately jump and down…..”””””

    I flew BA first class round trip LAX-LHR in the mid 90’s when seats were still old school side by side frist class seats, would be nice to try out current seating styles.

    It does make you feel special flying on a 747 in the nose.

  2. You mean the average American has not heard of the River Taff in Wales that flows right through Cardiff ? Shocking !
    Oh yeah – Cardiff also has a huge maintenance base for British Airways, so there is a reason to visit and satisfy your inner air dork…

  3. Nice report. Warmly greeted at check-in and all along the way. Of course, you must acknowledge that most airlines do a good job in first class with automatic smiles, warm greetings and the rest. It’s how they handle Y class, where the rubber meets the road so to speak, that is the most meaningful test. And in your case, BA apparently came up short. As do many carriers, in my opinion.Nice manners and good service shouldn’t depend on the price of the ticket.

  4. The BA F seat (judging from the photos) has just an arm separating it from the aisle, and on the right (next to the window) just a “half” ledge rather than a full ledge. In contrast, UA’s F seats, also set diagonally, have large triangular ledges on both sides, filling the entire space not occupied by the seat itself, and on both sides you have a latched cabinet door revealing a large cabinet underneath. Horizontal ledge space is important for people like me who want a place to put an open laptop and reading material during the meal service.

    The flight report was disappointing, because Cranky did not have the full meal service, just the entree and ice cream. I would like to have seen comments and photos of the other courses, including whether the appetizer was hot, the size and style of the salad, whether soup was served, and what the cheese service looked like (some airlines plant little flags or labels to indicate what the cheeses are).

    Finally, the late-flight snack service was very downscale — just little cold canapes? Yuck. Legacy CO serves warm sandwiches as the late flight snack even in C class — including a full-fledged cheeseburger with a side plate of tomato, onion, pickle, etc.

    Bob Gordon

  5. BA 1st is good but has a bit of a way to go to match SQ or CX. The cabin crew has always been a strong point for BA. Two negatives from my point. BA288/289 PHX-LHR/rtn uses only the mid door for egress/regress so one is always forced to jam his way through economy. Particularly when wanting to get off the flight at Skyharbour PHX. My other negative is the quality of the food has slipped over the last 4 or 5 years. BA is my only option direct flight to get to Europe and I know that they are better than AA or UA.

  6. The river Taff flows through the middle of Cardiff (capital of Wales) hence the slang taffy.
    Cardiff airport is not a major passenger hub but it does however have British Airways’ main engineering base – presumably an afternoon tour would satisfy the inner air dork of even someone like Cranky…

  7. Sure enough, Buzz Aldrin strolled up and sat in seat 2K right behind me. Though I wanted to immediately jump up and down like a little kid and say hello, I just assumed that?s not what people want when they fly First Class.

    Saying hello, opens up that possibility to converse with celebrities/VIP’s. I find that some/most celebrities welcome the recognition. I’ve had a President of the United States onboard. His (Secretary of state) Wife on separate occasions. Politicians, Newscasters, Movie stars, Sport stars, TV stars and people of famous families. ALL, very courtesy and some come into the galley for small talk. Only once, did I have someone who refused to acknowledge me (Lucille Ball treatment), all communication went through his companion onboard. I thought it was funny.
    Wow. First class, international. where the beautiful people travel. (smile).
    Coach going over and First Class coming back. Of course, there’s a difference in service. I wonder, though, you seemed agitited, sleepless going over, any influence on your report??? Maybe?

    1. Coach going over and First Class coming back. Of course, there?s a difference in service. I wonder, though, you seemed agitited, sleepless going over, any influence on your report??? Maybe?

      With a newborn and a small and growing business, my whole life is being agitated and sleepless. I’ve tried to stay out of the argument with you because it always ends the same way. But since you’ve asked a direct question . . .

      There are two kinds of premium economy. The one United offers is not a separate cabin but simply an upsell with more legroom. The one BA offers is a separate cabin. It is sold separately and is supposed to be treated separately. The service should be better in World Traveller Plus than in World Traveller, but to be honest, this level of service wasn’t even acceptable in coach.

      At some point, you said the flight attendants did everything they were supposed to do, but that’s not correct. They didn’t do the morning tea service, at least not for our zone, and they didn’t hand out landing cards. They also didn’t respond to the call button when my seatmate rang it. They did nothing else beyond the bare minimum of serving food and collecting trays, and they didn’t even do that well.

      You might consider this to be good enough because you don’t have 1 flight attendant per passenger anymore, but it just wasn’t good service. I’ve seen flight attendants do better with less. Does that mean BA has bad service? Of course not. It just means that this particular flight had bad service.

      So you need to just accept that the flight out had bad service and it wasn’t because of my mood (which was actually quite good), or my general lack of sleep. Flight attendants can’t always blame staffing or other outside factors when things don’t go well. Sometimes, *gasp*, it’s actually the fault of the flight attendants.

      1. ……….I’ve worked probably a dozen type of aircraft. Several airlines. I get with a class of service is, trust me. Most have little differences. IT’S A CONCEPT. Yes, some differ from domestic to first class. Obviously.
        Tea service? maybe turbulence, maybe CATERING didnt cater them correctly. Did YOU find out???? So one excuse would be that they didnt do their jobs, the other REASON would be they didnt have the TOOLS to do it.
        Never said, you cant have a bad flight, i know someones demeaner the minute I mee them during our crew briefings. Yes, bad attitudes exist. (in all jobs).

        1. Tea service? maybe turbulence, maybe CATERING didnt cater them correctly. Did YOU find out???? So one excuse would be that they didnt do their jobs, the other REASON would be they didnt have the TOOLS to do it.

          They didn’t do their jobs. There was no turbulence and the other side of the cabin did get a drink service. And though they failed to respond to the call button, my seatmate flagged them down. Three of us requested tea in my row and the flight attendant went and got it (after a long delay).

  8. So, I’m a bit confused as to the window in the lav. Is it a window that looks outside the plane or is it a window into the lav? Also, whats the point of it frosting over when the lav door is unlocked?

    Also, CF why don’t we have a picture of you in your BA PJs?

    1. Nick – It’s a window looking outside the aircraft, so you’re right, it is kind of goofy that it frosts. But still kind of a neat effect. The lav also has a sensor faucet, which is great. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine that you have to hold down the tap with one hand while washing the other. So maybe the frosted window was part of the upgrade package (along with the rust-proof covering…)

      No pic of me in my PJs because I didn’t want to bug anyone to take a shot. They’re just dark blue with a long sleeve shirt and pants. There’s a little BA speedmarque along with the word “First” on the breast.

  9. Have you had a chance to try VS upper class? I’d be curious to know how the perception of service between the two products compare!

    1. Matt – I have not flown Virgin Atlantic upper class but I have flown Air New Zealand, which at least has the same exact seat. While I can’t comment on the service aspects vs VS, this is just a more private setting with a larger area. On VS, the 747 has 7 seats on the side from the nose to the first door while the BA first class offering has 5.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s worth the extra price. I can’t imagine ever paying for First Class myself. I find a flat bed in business to be just about everything I need personally. People who sit in F are really just paying for the exclusivity of it all and the private attention.

  10. My husband and I were lucky enough to snag a one way trip on BA 1st class from Capetown to LHR (coutesy of AA rewards) …it is exactly as described. We were able to sleep because it was 14 hours night flight – the sttendant asked me “shall I make your bed, Madam”…

    I tell everybody it ws a wonderful flight -wish we can afford to travel this way all the time,
    BUT now I know how it feels to sleep in a coffin! when you lie down on that 6 feet bed, you are surrounded by this low privacy wall !

  11. Great review!! When I’m in BA First, I usually order the JW Blue. Mmmm, that and a pound of cashews and I’m quite the happy flyer. Old or New first.!!

  12. I?ve tried to stay out of the argument with you because it always ends the same way. But since you?ve asked a direct question . . .

    …………and I usually only reponse to flight attendant related articles because I’m the ONE with almost 30 years EXPERIENCE. According to your BIO on this site, you were a Sales Rep. ….lol. and apparently didnt HOLD THE JOB for too long at any airline. You have little experience in this industry, besides writing about it….

    1. ????and I usually only reponse to flight attendant related articles because I?m the ONE with almost 30 years EXPERIENCE. According to your BIO on this site, you were a Sales Rep. ?.lol. and apparently didnt HOLD THE JOB for too long at any airline. You have little experience in this industry, besides writing about it?.

      Oh please, Frank. This gets so tiresome. So you’ve been a flight attendant for 30 years. You could use that experience to chime in and join a productive conversation but you don’t. Instead you opt to snipe at others and act like you know everything. This comment is a perfect example.

      Instead of trying to deal with the merits of an argument, you throw out a silly assertion that I don’t have enough experience in the industry because I was just a sales rep (which I wasn’t, in fact). That doesn’t prove any point you’re trying to make – it’s just a poor attempt to discredit a person instead of dealing with an argument. That is why I generally prefer not to engage with you, because it’s never productive.

      There are plenty of conflicting opinions in the comments here, and I love it. That’s because when there’s a rational back and forth based on sound reasoning, it makes for great conversation. I’d suggest trying that approach in the future.

      1. This gets so tiresome. So you?ve been a flight attendant for 30 years. You could use that experience to chime in and join a productive conversation but you don?t. Instead you opt to snipe at others and act like you know everything.

        hey, I have chimed in and gotten the typical, I-fly-more-then-you-ATTITUDE. That’s usually the case when discussing F/A’s, they’re wrong, they’re fat, they’re uneducated, they’re old…blah, blah, blah. BRETT, your board is no different.

      2. CF, Just a suggestion, but maybe you can update the TOS of your site to specify use of all caps is considered a violation and will result in permanent blocks. : )

  13. Since that time, I?ve worked in several places in the industry. Here?s what I?ve done in the past.

    USAir Sales Intern (1996-1997)
    America West Sales Intern (1997-1999)
    United Dulles Operations Intern (1999)
    America West Pricing Analyst/Sr Analyst/Manager (1999-2002)
    Eos Intern (2003)

    ……….YIKES, Brett. You cant seem to hold a job.

      1. Axel – You are correct. I have no idea if anyone really cares, but I’m happy to go through each of these.

        *I was a USAir sales intern during my sophomore year in college. This was back when they had the sales office on 16th St in Washington. After that year was over, the internship was up.

        *After my sophomore year, I went back to Phoenix for the summer since my parents lived there. I ended up getting an internship with the America West sales team. In the Fall, I went back to school and the east coast team had gotten to know me so they asked me to stay on during the year. I did that during my junior year and came back to Phoenix with the sales team during the following summer. I also stayed on through the fall semester of my senior year on the East Coast, but then I wanted something different.

        *For the spring semester of my senior year, I got on as an operations intern for United at Dulles. When school ended, so did that.

        *After school, I had interviewed for different areas at America West and settled on pricing. I did that for 3 years, rising to manager of the group. I would have stayed longer but that’s when I got into Stanford business school. So I left.

        *During the summer between my first and second years at Stanford, I did my internship with Eos before it was Eos. The founder was a Stanford alum and was working on his business plan. One of my professors came to me and asked if I would be interested. Of course I was. I had an offer to join Eos after school, but I decided not to do it. Instead…

        *After business school, I decided to go to United in marketing planning. I was there for less than a year before I left. It was a terrible job. While the group was filled with people who I liked and respected, it was dysfunctional and ended up being disbanded shortly after I left anyway. It’s too bad, because if the group has worked as planned, it would have been great.

  14. (For the record playing the American version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire as a Brit is virtually impossible. Did you know that an Indiana man can sometimes be called a Hoosier? Neither does anyone else in the UK)


  15. BA`s new first is nice, however the food still needs so much improving. This is my constant moan at them when on board…..flying in a few weeks to India with them in First so lets see what they serve up.

Leave a Reply to CF Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier