Thanks to some points pooling between my partner and I, and his savvy use of an Amex companion voucher, we got to fly first class with British Airways when emigrating to Australia in 2014. I anticipated the journey for weeks, dreaming of the elegance and luxury that lay ahead. But, to be entirely honest, my experience didn’t quite live up to our expectations.
For a start we nearly missed the flight! Despite having checked into the Sofitel at Heathrow Terminal 5 the night before we were due to fly, some unexpected delays and lack of announcements in the lounge meant we were the last to board the flight – we were lucky they held the doors for us.
We had planned to spend our morning revelling in the luxury of the Concorde Room, Terminal 5’s lounge for First passengers, but it didn’t quite pan out like that. After queuing to check in (the rest of the airport was relatively quiet but there was a queue at First, ironically) and having an issue with checking our bags through to Sydney, it took us 30 minutes to get to the lounge.
At the Concorde Room the lady on the desk checked our boarding passes and asked if we had been here before. We replied no so she gave us a brief induction to the lounge by pointing at things from her seat. She recommended we confirm our spa appointments first thing.
Prior to arriving at the airport I had confirmed our spa appointments several times via email. This itself had been a fairly painful experience as the first time I emailed I was told I was too early to book, then the second time I was issued an appointment 10 minutes before we were due to fly. When I questioned that this seemed a bit tight (!) the staff agreed and reissued me a new time. Arriving on the day we were told that to be sure we were booked we needed to queue at the Elemis desk and go through the process again. This we did, then queued to show our passes to get back in the lounge, then struggled to find a seat.
We made our way to 2 free seats we spotted on the outside terrace, sat down and were ignored for about 10 minutes while we looked around for a member of staff. When one appears he takes the menus from us and says:
“I’m taking these away now so if you want something you better order now”.
My partner orders an omelette and the server sneers:
He begins to walk off and we call him back and ask if we can possibly have some drinks. Not really the reception or service we were expecting.
I left my partner waiting for his omelette while I went back to the spa for my treatment. I had to wait at the desk despite coming at my allotted time but eventually was shown to a massage chair where a therapist worked on the tension in my neck and shoulders for 20 minutes and the chair (surprisingly forcefully) massaged my back and legs.
After my treatment I returned to the lounge (showing my pass once more) and swapped places with my partner who had to leave his omelette half way through. As our flight time is inching closer he asks for his treatment to be cut in half. I don’t have any time to try the lounge food, despite having salivated over the rave reviews in the weeks prior.
We watch the boards the whole time we are in the lounge as flights are not called out and no staff come to get you. From the time we arrived our flight is listed next to the gate number but there is no message to go to the gate. As soon as it says the flight is boarding we leave the lounge and head towards the transit train. By the time we exit the transit, however, the signs announce the flight is closing. My partner has to run ahead and tell them we are on our way. They hold the door for me and we are the last 2 to board, stressed and sweaty.
(Comfort and champagne in First Class cabin)
On board things get better. The seats in First are as you would expect – amazing. We had opted for two seats in the middle of the plane so we could talk during the flight.
Our pods were separated by a window divider, which I could peep my head through, but should you not know the passenger next to you can be closed for complete privacy.
The leg room in the First seat is so generous I cannot touch the footrest from a seated position. The generous sized touch screen TV is far enough in front that I could not reach to touch it either (luckily there is a handset in the seat).
There is a small cupboard to hang jackets in each seat but no drawer for items like laptops or phones.
(Amenity kit by Elemis, including socks, slippers and eye mask)
The cabin manager introduced himself to us once we were on board and we were swiftly served some champagne to celebrate actually making the flight. From that point, however, the service became distinctly hands off. After taking my reading materials from my hand luggage I wandered the aisle looking lost trying to find someone to help me stow it. When a staff member did come back she haltingly told me to help her lift it when she thought I was going to leave her to it.
Throughout the flight we were always supplied with anything we asked for but were never offered things like drinks and snacks as you would expect. Only the cabin manager came past to see if we were ok. Everyone else responded if we rang the bell but it felt rather diva-ish, it would have been nicer to have someone check on you.
The food was sublime though and superbly presented. Similarly to Club World the food is served in courses on a white tablecloth. The meals are one step up though in terms of quality and the service is opened with a tasty amuse bouche.
The Aberdeen Angus steak I opted for was particularly tasty and my custard tart had an arty topping you don’t expect to see in the sky. The menu stated that cheese, fruit and chocolates also came with the dinner service but they never arrived nor were they offered to us. (When peckish during the night I went sniffing around the business class cabin which had snacks laid out as ours didn’t but I couldn’t get past the curtain!)
(Dining in First Class)
Once ready for bed we rang our bells and staff made them up while we changed into the First PJs. (I much enjoyed posing for selfies in these.)
The bathrooms in First are the same size as the rest of the plane so getting changed was a bit tight. The beds were incredibly comfy though. Completely flat and adequately wide they came with under padding, a soft duvet and decent sized pillow. I slept well for a few hours but was woken by noise in the cabin (spoons seemed to clink against cups all night long – the downside of having real cutlery in premiere cabins perhaps?). There were no ear plugs in the amenity bags but the Elemis lip balm provided came in handy.
(Snug as a bug in my plane pjs and flat bed)
At breakfast time the pancakes I had my eye on were unfortunately not available. (I was told the plane was catered with 1 pancake breakfast and there were 10 First passengers on board. Apparently the man in front of me had requested them the previous night – he must have done this before!) I opted for some granola instead which was really good and went some way towards masking my pancake disappointment.
(Tasty breakfast granola and smoothie)
(Electric blinds let the sunshine in)
Although I had very high hopes for my First Class BA experience I can’t say I was wowed. From my experience I couldn’t see enough difference between the service and food in business (read my review of Club World on BA) to justify the extra spend (or points redemption) to fly First.
The seat was superb and flying long haul is made much easier with this comfort, but in terms of service and overall experience we had a much better time in the business class on Japan Airlines, which we took for the second leg of our journey. I’m very grateful we got to have this experience and it was worth the redemption for the all the luggage we needed to bring (you can check in 3 x 23kg bags on First) but it wasn’t what I expected a first class experience would be like at all.
After reading more frequent flyer blogs I’ve seen some say that BA First is like other airlines business and having now flown business class with Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines Suites I have to agree.
My partner and I paid £350 each to fly First Class (one way) from London to Tokyo using 90,000 air miles and an American Express companion voucher.
Have you flown first with other airlines? How do they compare?