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

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.

I went online in advance and specifically requested the seat that , 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. 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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.


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