Sunday, June 15, 2008

BA First

Now, I have flown first class before, but to be fair most often it was with Air New Zealand, before it phased out First Class in favour of upgraded Business Class to Business Premier, with seats (if not catering) superior to the old First Class. I've also flown on United Airlines, but really US carriers don't count. BA's First Class, known just as First, is head and shoulders above all of them (although I haven't yet experienced Singapore Airlines Suites).
Now the seat isn't new, but it is comfortable and easily adjustable. The pods are arranged facing away from each other offering privacy, and every seat has aisle access. However, when fully reclined these seats are seriously comfortable. Supportive and soft, with blanket, duvet and pillow, but then you don't need to do it, for that is what First is about - staff that look after you.
The personal service is excellent, not in your face, but civilised, helpful, friendly and professional. Besides the introduction, and being demonstrated the seat, the rather dated entertainment system (think the small screens on old Air NZ business class, 16 simultaneous video channels, plus films on tape) and the rather ample menu offerings, the impression was given that nothing was a problem, and it really wasn't. My flight was 7.5 hours long leaving the Middle East at a very late hour, and I was offered a dinner menu and told "have any combination", so I selected the soup, salad and lobster shepherds' pie. The service was presented as in a 5 star restaurant, with cutlery and crockery impeccably presented. I chose one wine, rejected it and selected another. The lobster shepherds' pie was delicious, and for some reason all the food seemed fresh, from the warm bread rolls to the salad. In the morning, breakfast was served as fruit and cereal, I was advised against the sausages, but the scrambled eggs were perfectly cooked. In short, the food was prepared for me, not part of a bulk run of a course for multiple passengers. On top of that I received a pair of BA First pjs, basically a cotton tshirt and track pants to sleep in, and an Anya Hindmarsh amenity kit. Certainly classy. Certainly better than Club World (which itself is one of the better business classes).
However, it was the transfer at Heathrow that added an extra point to it all. I went from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 in half an hour, including the bus transfer and security. Terminal 5 itself is impressive compared to other Heathrow terminals. Easy to navigate, spacious and far more open than the others. However, for the passenger arriving off First and transferring to a single class domestic flight, the delight is in the lounges. I went to the First lounge and was advised I could use the Concorde Room as it is quieter (ONLY First passengers can use the Concorde Room, as top tier BA frequent flyers could also use the First lounge). So I was shown into a place of tranquility.
What a delight, a large lounge with a terrace outside the lounge area in the main terminal to look out through the glass to the airport, staff to serve you at your sofa, lounge chair or the like offering you any drink you wish, and a full menu - with a sit down restaurant also available. Elegantly luxuriously, not a lounge you need to hunt around for a private place, more one where you decide where you wish to sit - a vast change from any business class lounge. See images here and here for a taste of it.
Toilets were separate bathrooms, not a shared facility, and of course one could use the Elemis Spa for a massage, and the less than wonderful shower rooms.
The question for me is whether First is worth it, compared to Club World. It certainly is a cut above, the lounges, the service and the seats are noticeably better, despite seeming dated at first impression. BA First Class is unquestionably better, than any business class I have ever flown. It perhaps is only behind in terms of its entertainment system, but that I understand is to be addressed. With the Concorde Room at Terminal 5, the right to Arrivals lounges at some airports, excellent service, very comfortable seating and some of the best airline food I have ever had, BA First lives up to what it is - the question I have is whether Singapore Airlines likely better on board product can make up for the first class facilities at Terminal 5.

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