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Following my previous posts on how I went from a total novice to securing my dream flights with air miles, and after our visit to the Galleries First Lounge, this is my review of the first leg of our trip, First Class from London Heathrow T3 to Las Vegas on a 747-400.
Before the flight – Seat selection anxiety
For those of us that are mere BA Executive Club Blue tier peasants members, seat selection and fees can be a sore subject.
When travelling in First however, even on Avios redemption flights, seat selection is “complimentary” regardless of your membership tier status – except for seats 01A and 01K which are blocked out for Gold tier members until T-72 hours from departure.
In my case, this presented me with a different first-world problem to agonise over. Instead of whether the £68 per person, per sector charge in Club World was worth it, I now had to decide which two seats would be the “best” of the 9 available to me – 5A, 4E and 4F had already been reserved.
I eventually settled on 02A and 02K – deciding that as it was a day flight window seats would be preferable to a centre pair, and they might be almost close enough for us to talk to each other if we needed to. Although as it was my “dream flight” – I really had my eyes on 01A and 01K right in the nose of the 747.
Thankfully the seat selection gods were smiling on me – and when I logged on to the app at bang on T-72 hours, 01A and 01K were available for selection – Result!
Check In and Boarding Experience
As explained in my review of the Ibis Styles hotel that we stayed in the night before, we arrived at the airport on a red public bus. We then walked from the Heathrow T1-3 bus station to the main T3 check-in area, which took about 10mins due to us both having 2 suitcases, and the fact some people seem to delight in completely blocking travellators whilst standing still (grrrrr!).
Right in the centre of the main BA check-in area, by the escalators up to departures, is the First Class and OneWorld Emerald check-in area, behind a glitzy looking partition – because of course when travelling in First darling, mere mortals down the back of the bus daren’t look upon you 😉
Check-in was quick, there were three agents on the desks and one had just finished as we arrived, and there is a seating area across the back partition wall had we had to wait – although I can’t see how you would stop others from just wandering in and up to the desks in front of you, if you chose to sit and wait? Maybe the agents police that?
Once the necessary checks were done, we were issued with paper boarding passes (required for souvenir purposes), and a little card with directions to the First Class lounge. We were then directed up the escalators to the Premium security area.
Premium security at Terminal 3 is a completely separate area from the general security, with two dedicated x-ray machines and scanners. There were only three people ahead of us in either queue, and we were through in under 5 minutes.
I have already covered the Heathrow T3 Galleries First Class Lounge and Elemis Spa in a separate review, so I’ll skip straight to boarding.
Our scheduled departure was 12:30, with boarding beginning at 12:00. As our gate was in the next county at the far end of the terminal, we left the lounge at 11:40. The gate area had a huge space in front of the gate roped off, and was rather crowded as there were 3 gates in close proximity all with departure times before 13:00 leaving little space to wait. There was also the usual gate loiterers, hovering at the entrance to the roped off area, which in turn encouraged further loiterers, which began to block the walkway through the gate area. Luckily, within minutes of us arriving and taking my photo of the plane, the BA staff announced pre-boarding, quickly followed by First Class.
Obviously, I took no pleasure at all in barging my way through the gate loiterers who were evidently NOT in First Class/Requiring extra time/travelling with young children…
Seriously, I don’t get why people can’t just wait for their boarding group to be called without causing an obstruction – this isn’t an old-school Ryanair sprint-for-your-life flight!
On-Board – The Seat and IFE
The 747 we were flying on was not one of those that has been recently refurbished, rather it still had the old layout and old style seating, with World Traveller Plus located immediately behind First instead of Club World on the newer layouts.
Regardless of the age of the plane, this was our first First, and I did have to pinch myself at the prospect of having so much space to myself for the next 10 hours, given I’d only ever flown at best Premium Economy before.
As we boarded the plane, we were greeted by name and escorted to our seats by a member of the cabin crew.
Waiting at the seat were the BA headphones, and the crew member took our pre-departure drink order and, after I whispered it was our first First, asked if we wanted sleeper suits. I opted for champagne, as I obviously hadn’t had enough in the Lounge… I will come onto Food and Drink later.
One thing I have to note about this particular First seat, is there is a distinct lack of personal storage. As you can see in the picture below, I had a tablet, kindle, personal headphones and the BA freebies. The only place to “store” these within the seat area was either in the wardrobe, on the little leather ledge by the window or wedge them down by the magazine rack.
If you can’t fit your things in any of those places – you will need to keep them in your carry-on, which can be stored in the overhead bins from Row 2 (there are no bins above row 1), or the large cabin wardrobe at the front.
In terms of a sleeping area, First Class gives you a “turn down” service, where the crew provide a mattress pad, duvet and small pillow for you.
I like on the 747 that you get 2 windows, and BA have installed special blinds that cover both of them which you control from your seat (yes, it’s the little things…)
Given this was my first experience of a flat bed on a plane, even though it was a day flight I decided to have a nap (as did most other passengers in the cabin – helps you get straight into the party when you land in Vegas!)
I’m by no means tall (5’7”), so had loads of room to stretch out. The mattress pad was a nice touch, but I don’t think it made a noticeable difference. Whilst it’s not the same as sleeping in a real bed, it was more than comfy enough for a few hours’ champagne induced napping!
I also found the seat width adequate, but then I have no experience of other airlines to compare it to.
In this First Class seat, the TV screen swings out from the side. This must be stowed for take-off and landing, so no gate-to-gate entertainment. The screen is much larger than those in Club World on this 747 model, but the resolution is poor – kinda like an old VHS tape.
On our particular flight, they were having issues with the IFE. Despite rebooting, they couldn’t get the on-demand IFE to work, so had to resort to playing a limited selection of films on a loop. The film I wanted to watch wasn’t on this loop, and it was almost impossible to catch the beginning of a film, and you had to figure out which one it was!
Luckily I had my tablet with some films downloaded, and in between sleeping and eating didn’t really need to watch the IFE.
On-Board – Food and Drink
One of the key differentiators between Club World and First Class it seems, besides the seat, is the food and drink. In First Class you have a wider variety to choose from, the service is “Dine on Demand” rather than a fixed schedule, and on all aircraft except the 787-900, you can “buddy dine” with someone else.
As we were on a day flight, the food offerings were Lunch, and then a “Light Meal” before landing (or whenever you want… as it’s dine on demand!)
The drink selection, whilst not extensive, covers most bases and with quality offerings (Tanqueray No. 10 on board – take note Galleries First!). First Class also get Dessert Wine which isn’t available in Club World – although I didn’t manage to sample it on this particular flight.
I ordered a cup of tea shortly after the seatbelt sign was turned off – and instead of the usual paper cup you I’m used to down the back of the bus, I was presented with a full on tea service with proper china, and tongs for my sugar cubes. I felt so awfully British!
After sampling a bit more Grand Siècle just to be sure I liked it, I moved onto the A to Z Riesling with lunch which was excellent, and then as the world begin a spin a little, decided to stick to Diet Coke and water for the rest of the flight…
For lunch we decided to “Buddy Dine”, which is a really unique experience at 40,000ft! The crew laid our table, and then began the service.
We opted for the Scotch Egg and Terrine to start:
Then I had Guinea Fowl with Pearl Barley (pre-ordered through Manage My Booking to ensure I got my choice, although the crew did ask if I wished to change my mind before they served it):
Alex opted for the Beef:
After the first two courses, we were full and decided to delay our dessert – which wasn’t a problem for the crew. Perks of Dine on Demand in First Class!
About 2 hours before landing, we decided to have one of the light meals between us, having also raided the Club Kitchen mid-flight. I then also ordered my “lunch” dessert, the Chocolate and Praline Délice:
Overall, I have to say the food was excellent. The presentation was good, it was served at the right pace, and tasted delicious. I like the “Dine-on-Demand” approach, and really enjoyed the opportunity to “buddy dine” with Alex. It was really romantic to share a meal together up in the sky! I think this is definitely something that BA should push more in terms of an “experience” and a reason to fly First instead of Club.
Photos of the menu are included below:
On-Board – The Service
One of the stand out excellent parts of our flight was the cabin crew. A “Mixed Fleet” crew, they really did make the flight. The two crew we mainly dealt with were friendly and bubbly, and couldn’t do enough for us as soon as they found out it was our first First. Whilst we were hesitant in asking for some things such as to have our bed made – they would remind us “Hey, you’re in First, you just have to ask, you can do whatever you want!”.
The crew proactively kept our drinks topped up, were really apologetic when I asked what was going on with the IFE, and nothing was too much trouble.
After lunch, I decided to wander back to have a nose at Club World, and to go upstairs as I’d never been on a 747 and was fascinated about a plane with an “upstairs”. The crew were more than happy for me to do this, they just asked for me to wait until the Club World lunch service had completed so as not to get in the way.
Whilst back in Club World, I checked out the “Club Kitchen”. There was a selection of crisps, popcorn and Cadbury’s snacksize chocolate bars, and also some sandwiches and fruit in the chiller. We were in our First sleeper suits by now, and the crew in Club World encouraged us to take as much as we wanted back to the First Class galley as it would probably disappear soon. So, off we trotted back to First with our sandwich selection, popcorn and chocolate bars. I checked back about 3 hours before landing and there was literally about 5 Fudges and 2 tubs of Pringles left!
The crew in First happily kept our sandwiches in the fridge until we wanted them. When I woke up from my nap, I wandered back to the galley to get my sandwiches – expecting to be handed the package. However, even Club Kitchen sandwiches get served on a china plate in First!
Slightly embarrassingly though – at one point Alex went to the toilet, however one of the two First Class toilets was in use, and the other was being cleaned.
One of the crew in the galley noticed, and proceeded to march Alex (in his First sleeper suit) back into the Premium Economy cabin which has 1 toilet between 38 seats, so had a small queue.
She then cut him into the front of the queue and insisted he go ahead of the PE passengers. TOTALLY AWKWARD. Needless to say, he didn’t step foot past the dividing curtain again during the flight for fear of being lynched.
I loved it.
Yes the seat wasn’t the most modern and the IFE didn’t work properly – but it was a complete revelation to someone who has only ever flown Premium Economy at best.
The superb crew made up for the shortfall in the hard product, and let’s face it, compared to Economy and even Premium Economy this was heaven.
My only issue is – I think I may have spoilt us, so that we can never travel long-haul in anything below Business Class ever again… and even that might disappoint in some aspects such as no dine-on-demand and buddy-dining!
Good job InsideFlyer is helping me rebuild my Avios and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club stash…