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Following some increasingly mixed reviews of the BA long-haul premium class product, I was pleased to take the opportunity to once again experience their First Class cabin for myself, between Heathrow and JFK.
While it perhaps lacks the show-stopping glamour of the free-spending “Middle East 3” of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, BA First Class remains a great way to fly. Whether you get the value you once did, particularly when compared to the premium cabin prices sometimes offered by the Middle Eastern carriers (and, increasingly, Oneworld stable-mate Finnair) is, however, open to debate.
I connecting to the flight from a Dublin flight which arrived a little early and so was able to nip through to the Concorde Room with about 90 minutes until flight time.
The flight was leaving from a B gate so I had to grab the shuttle train to the terminal.
The shuttles run from two platforms – just check the signs to see the next one. Look out for BA staff who usually know the best place to board to enable you to get off closest to the lift to the gates.
Arriving at the B gate I walked down the concourse, with some great views of the planes parked there.
On arriving at the gate, I could see that the flight attendants were still in the area behind the check-in desk. This is never a good sign – it means that boarding is likely to be delayed. Eventually, boarding time came and went, with no sign of anyone actually boarding – generally a fairly key part of any boarding process. Disappointingly, there were very few announcements and while a member of staff did come and tell a few of us what was happening, they were clearly not talking to every passenger.
I decided to go to the B gates lounge. However, there is no separate area here for First Class and it was packed, more than I have ever seen it before.
Unsurprisingly, there was a long line of passengers who would miss their JFK connections in the Customer Service line. I called the Gold Guest Line who confirmed that it was likely to be a two hour delay.
Indeed it did turn out to be that and as it was Thanksgiving, BA had cancelled a number of flights meaning that there was very little choice to switch. I had booked an overnight at JFK before my trip to Hawaii, and so this didn’t make much of a difference to me.
We boarded around 11.15 and I was quickly in my 2K seat. It’s my favourite seat on the plane. The aircraft was a “Super High J”, meaning that it has two extra rows of Club World, over and above the high density Club version of the 747.
The crew came around with sleeper suits, amenity kits and champagne, orange juice or water. Newspapers were free to help yourself from a pile. The cabin was full, except for 1A/1J who were two passengers who had come from Dublin with me, but had clearly rebooked when the delay happened.
After take off, the Customer Service Director came round and introduced herself, shook our hands and handed out menus. I was pretty quickly in to a movie as the plane had the new BA system installed.
My Champagne and nuts turned up pretty fast.
As it was Thanksgiving, BA had dropped the beef option from the menu and introduced a Turkey choice, a nice touch and the option I ended up going for.
The menu options were as follows:
For starter I chose to have the Cheddar souffle.
Followed by the soup – which was superb. Probably the best course I have had on a plane in a number of years. Tasty, satisfying, not salty and full of flavour. Wonderful.
The main course was, by contrast a little disappointing. The gravy was great but the turkey was a little dry and the presentation distinctly uninspiring.
The warm dessert (almond and white chocolate souffle) was lovely and a great way to finish one of the better meals I’ve had on a plane.
I slept for a few hours before we started to land and the BA staff did a light afternoon tea service. I passed on the sandwiches but had the cakes.
We landed and had a long taxi to the Terminal. Getting off through door 2 meant a scrum with Club passengers trying to get to the terminal. We were behind a Ukrainian plane, but fortunately my Global Entry access meant that I could by-pass the sizeable queue. An incredibly friendly immigration agent then asked me whether I needed assistance with the machine which was nice, and we had a good chat about having to work on Thanksgiving. The exit from Customs was much slower, with the agent checking my photo from the GE machine against me and my passport, taking several minutes to do so.
I was then out, across and on the AirTrain within a couple of minutes – taking it to Federal Circle to pick up my hotel’s shuttle. Miraculously it was there waiting, as it was a slow day due to it being Thanksgiving.
Although I seem to have more delays on long haul BA services than I would like, once on board the service was pretty good: the service was friendly, the in-flight product experience perfectly satisfactory and there was some decent food available.
BA may have its work cut out in keeping up with some of the truly fantastic premium class products currently available, but to write it off completely is very unfair. It remains an excellent premium option, with quality service, good food and a very comfortable hard product. With Qatar et al slashing prices in premium, the cost may sometimes be difficult to justify but, availability issues aside, there are some great ways of getting superb value BA First Class travel – the companion voucher through the BA Amex being one of the most obvious examples.
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