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Following on from my previous post (How I received almost 10p of value per Avios) this article reviews the BA First Class flight from London Heathrow to Boston Logan International airport onboard a Boeing 747, one Saturday in early August. The above article covers the booking costs, which was a large quantity of Avios, an American Express 2-4-1 voucher and some actual money.
Where to sit / lie-down
I deliberated over seat selection for several months, as you are able to select seats in First from the moment of booking. I feel silly telling you this, as there are only 14 seats to choose from, and half of them were already booked. I think it was the novelty of being able to select a seat as soon as you are booked, which is a great benefit when travelling First. In the end I settled on 5A, 5E and 5F (which were assigned by default anyway). The day before the flight 1K opened up, which I didn’t want myself, as I wanted to be next to my wife. I explained to my son how cool it would be, looking almost directly out of the front of the plane, and that we are really lucky to get this option, as it’s normally taken by those with Gold status with BA, and would he like me to book him into 1K? He looked up momentarily from his PlayStation and replied, “Meh”.
My wife and I took 5E and 5F, with our 13 year old son getting the window suite, 5A.
The cot icon freaked me out a little, but a post on InsideFlyer.co.uk forums, and a quick call to BA‘s dedicated First Class customer service line, You First, re-assured me that I would not be presented with a baby to look after. That seat is where cots are positioned if requested, so my only risk was that someone with a baby may book and I would be moved. I took that risk, and it paid off.
Airport Experience (Heathrow)
We planned to arrive at Heathrow in plenty of time to take advantage of the lounge offerings, and the motorway gods were looking down on us that day, as we made good time, dropping the car off with the valet service just over 4 hours before the flight. After a one-floor lift ride, and short walk we were in Terminal 5 and heading for the dedicated First check in area.
As expected, there was no waiting, and we were straight up to a desk to check in the bags. All 4 got tagged as “Heavy”, but that’s fine as we each had an allowance of 3 bags of up to 32kg each! As we were all first-time First passengers, my wife and son insisted on taking photos in front of the illuminated First sign. Of course, I played it cool and strolled off towards fast-track security.
There was still a little bit of a wait to get through fast-track, but with an airport as busy as Heathrow, that’s still a lot of First and Business class passengers to process. To be honest, I’ve never really found Terminal 5 security to be particularly slow in any class, but fast track was a little faster, with around 10 minutes spent end to end.
Then I got to do my favourite part of the whole First experience (well, so far) and that is walk up to the little door immediately after security that looks like it could be the entrance to something really interesting. Well, it is; that’s the Concorde Room. “The Concorde room is the epitome of elegance and available at Heathrow Terminal 5 and New York JFK” according to BA’s official website, and I’d be inclined to agree. I won’t go into too much detail on the Concorde Room, as this was very well reviewed by Lucy E, back in April, but give you some highlights of our experience.
We opted to take a booth and order from the menu, served to our table (after a cocktail, and some cashews and olives while we deliberated!)
The food was excellent, although portions were almost comically small, but then it was only lunchtime, and I could have ordered more meals if I wanted. In truth, all I really needed, was something to soak up the red wine that accompanied my lunch and all the other differing forms of alcohol I was about to drink.
One of the other benefits of travelling in First, is that you get to book treatments in advance, rather than turning up in the vain hope of there being any availability. My wife and I had both booked in for a pre-flight massage. I quite enjoyed mine. I tend to have fairly tense shoulders, but the masseuse put some effort in, and I felt much more relaxed and loose in the shoulders afterwards and smelt quite strongly of lavender! I then learned that standards vary between the staff in the spa, as my wife was extremely disappointed with hers, describing it as ‘someone randomly prodding my back and shoulders for a few minutes’. If anyone is a fan of the series Friends, she thought perhaps Monica had given her a massage.
Being a gentleman, I then played down how much I enjoyed mine, with phrases, like “it was alright”, “nothing special”, but inside I knew 😉
I had read a lot about Laurent Perrier Grande Siècle, and how people seemed very excited by this being available in the Concorde room. I don’t claim to know much (if anything) about champagne, but I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to try it pass. After our massages, we headed back to the Concorde room where we found our son watching YouTube videos on his iPad and drinking fizzy pop (we hadn’t forgotten about him, he just wasn’t old enough for a massage). My wife is not at all interested in champagne (I really lucked out with this one!) so she ordered a Cosmo while I enjoyed a glass of the Laurent Perrier.
We then moved to the Galleries First lounge, which had a gin bar, quashing any chance of being “sensible” with our drinking before jumping on a plane for 7 hours. While there, I thought it prudent to compare the champagne offering, and was reminded why I don’t really like champagne, apart from my newly discovered favourite. We had time to squeeze in a little bit of duty free shopping before one more visit to the Concorde room for a last glass of Laurent Perrier Grande Siècle, oh, and the nice man also came round topping up my glass before we really had to leave and catch the transit to the gate.
We are normally quite well prepared, and turn up to everything in good time (and when I say we, I mean my wife, who then hurries me along). Somehow we had misjudged (maybe something to do with the alcohol?) and boarding had already started and we saw a huge line of people queuing up to get on board. Luckily we walked right past all of them to the priority line and after being selected for a random bag search we were soon at the aircraft door. On presenting our boarding cards we were greeted by name and escorted to our seats. Once settled we were offered champagne, which turned out to also be Laurent Perrier Grande Siècle 🙂
Amenity kits were handed out to everyone, with his and hers options. These contained a fairly practical array of toiletries such as a deodorant stick, lip balm, shave gel, razor (for the men) and various creams to moisturise or otherwise invigorate various parts of the face.
Pyjamas and slippers were offered as an option, but of course we took up that option and now have 3 sets of pyjamas with a First logo on cluttering up a spare room.
Orders were also taken for a drink once we are airborne, so I put in my request for a vodka and tonic. I took the opportunity to use the bathroom before we pushed back and was surprised to see a window in there. Granted, I was not as surprised as any of the ground crew who may have chosen that moment to look up at the plane! My son later informed me that there is a blind that can be pulled down over the window, much like those in regular window seats. The bathroom was not wildly different from any aeroplane bathroom, so no First class luxuries in here, with the exception of aforementioned window, perhaps? While watching the safety briefing, mine, and a few others’ screens were not working, so we were directed to watch a nearby screen and promised that they would be reset after we take off.
The seats are really very comfortable, and fairly practical in that everything is in easy reach, despite the generous amount of space. To indicate the space, here’s looking over to each side of the plane, showing both sides of a window seat.
Once we were off the ground, the requested vodka and tonic turned up, along with a bowl of nuts, placed on the handy little drinks table beside the seat.
The entertainment system was reset, and all the screens started working. At this point, I’m hoping the flight systems on this old 747 are slightly more reliable, but then the vodka mixed in with the wine and champagne already in my system and I forgot all about the fact that I don’t really like flying!
Then it was time to decide on what to eat for dinner, from the impressive menu.
I opted for the salmon, followed by the fillet of beef (to be honest I didn’t need the menu, I’d read it online months ago and already decided)
Of course, this was all served on my table, magically produced from the drinks table which was covered with a nice white tablecloth, on china plates and with metal cutlery. I also had my own salt and pepper mills, but the single serve sachet of horseradish looked a little out of place. The food was excellent, you really would forget you were on a plane.
My wife went for the seared tuna salad, which looked, and apparently tasted, amazing
From the dessert menu, I opted for the Chocolate Salted Caramel pudding, which was also very good.
To wash down the main, I opted for a Bordeaux red and thought I would try the dessert wine with the chocolate pudding. The red was fine, but I didn’t really enjoy the dessert wine. Sure, it was sweet, I expected that, but it had an undertone of something harsh, artificial, perhaps chemical like. That may be typical of dessert wines, it’s not something I’ve tried before, and probably won’t again. It wasn’t a problem though, I just ordered another vodka and tonic to take the taste away.
In Flight Entertainment
After dinner, I decided to watch a film, and opted for Batman vs. Superman which I had somehow managed not to see already. The entertainment system was something of a letdown. of course, it’s noticeably better than the seat back screens in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus, but looking a little dated. The touch screen wasn’t the most responsive, and picture quality was on a par with a cheap tablet computer. The noise cancelling headphones did a pretty good job and allowed me to hear the film perfectly well without any interruption from the cabin noise. Later on in the flight, I switched to the map to see where we were, how long was left and what the outside temperature was (why do they show that? Really, who cares? It’s not like there’s a outdoor deck to lie on and sunbathe). In the last 45 minutes of the flight the screen was repeatedly going blank at intervals, usually every couple of minutes which was pretty irritating. I didn’t bother mentioning this to the crew as I suspect they could only have reset the whole system to try and fix this, which would have interrupted everyone else’s entertainment. Plus we were about to start the descent and they would have other things to deal with, so I put up with it. I don’t really remember what happened in the film, but this isn’t IMDB, so I don’t need to bother reviewing it.
Time for a nap
When it felt like time to get some rest, I pressed a few buttons beside the seat, and it slid down into a fully flat bed. I grabbed a pillow and blanket from the cabin crew, and got my head down for a while. I don’t sleep too well on planes but the combination of the alcohol and the comfort of being able to lie down combined to enable me to get almost a couple of hours’ light sleep.
Shortly after I woke up, afternoon tea was served.
There were no options, the menu tells you what you are going to get
I opted for a coffee to accompany this as I had a couple of hours of the day to see out once we got off the plane, so needed a caffeine kick. What a great decision, the coffee was awesome. I have had much worse coffee in restaurants and coffee shops, very pleasantly surprised by that coffee. Sandwiches had some retained moisture and were tasty enough and the cakes were OK. All very nicely presented as you can see, and those little bits of effort contribute to the whole experience. A world (and indeed a couple of hundred thousand Avios, or few thousand £££s) away from the cardboard boxes no doubt being served ‘down the back’.
Landing was uneventful, followed by an incredibly long taxi to the stand, where we had to wait a few minutes for another aircraft to clear it. Once stopped, we were first off the plane, and that moment is when all priority treatment ended 🙁
We were left to the mercy of Logan airport and their inspired decision to man two desks at immigration when 3 or 4 large transatlantic flights were due to arrive. Two miserable hours spent queuing before we were able to get out and meet up with our family. That would have been entirely unbearable if we had not just spend the best part of 12 hours enjoying BA’s First class experience on land and in the air.
This was my first experience of First Class travel, and the uplift in service and quality from Club World was evident, even if subtle. Would I spend my own hard cash on the difference? Not until I win the lottery, but until then I will aim to maximise my Avios balance with a view to making a future redemption with BA. Given the option of booking into First in one direction only, I would always opt for the leg departing Heathrow as the Concorde room was probably the highlight of the whole experience for me, and I would happily spend a few hours in there.
Look out for the forthcoming review of the homeward journey in Club World which will highlight the stark contrast between the Concorde Room and the Galleries lounge at Boston Logan Airport.