The invitation to a friend’s wedding in Washington D.C. was the perfect excuse to use a BA AmEx 2for1 voucher I had sitting in my account. I knew that it was on the cards, and had at least 120,000 Avios in the household account when the invitation came through the post at the end of January. This was enough to secure 2 seats in Club World on a direct London – Washington flight, scheduled for a Boeing 747 with seats on the upper deck (something to tick off the bucket list). However, on the dates required, there was also availability in First, to tick off sitting in 1A in the nose of the 747, as well as – at least that is what I tell myself – a better bed on the way home straight into work after arrival.
Unfortunately, I was about 22,000 Avios short so unable to do anything about that. Luckily, this was at the time we were going to St Martin and a transatlantic business class trip earned enough miles to afford the upgrade. So it was that I called BA on Skype from my hotel room in the Caribbean to secure the seats for the trip.
Fast forward a few months and the trip begins. Staff at the First Wing were conscious of reminding us that we were able to go through to the Concorde Room, which we duly did for lunch. I had been in a few times and this was an occasion where the service was a bit of a let down; the lady in the dining room told me that there were no tables available, that she didn’t know how long it would be and that I should just come back later. Contrast this to my last visit to the Concorde Room at JFK where the staff sat us down, brought drinks and kept us informed as to when a table would be ready.
We eventually got a table, which had been free all along, when I asked another member of staff.
Lunch was tasty; starters of salmon, followed by a mackerel dish or panzanella salad. I passed on desert knowing that I would not do so on the plane.
The champagne was Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle – retailing at £100 a bottle and whilst it is definitely nicer than what they serve in Club Europe, I am not sure I would stump up the cash – and a delicious Mersault. After lunch we relaxed on the terrace before heading to the spa.
Appointments can be booked at T-28 days if travelling in First, or walk up on the day. If calling exactly 4 weeks ahead, you may have to ask them to check the availability as more often that not they will tell you there are no slots when there really are; they just haven’t opened them up. I went for a facial which is performed in a massage chair giving the best of both worlds.
For some reason we have never been able to get treatments at the same time, so we went in sequence, and rendezvoused on the terrace for tea afterwards.
When boarding was called, we took my preferred route to the satellite terminals by using the underground walkway at Level -4 rather than the transit at Level -2. No matter how many times I do it, it always feels like my own underground world.
Arriving at the gate, there was no movement, but just a host of entitled parents with their offspring assuming that they deserve priority boarding. I just don’t understand where it comes from and why they thing that it is a good thing to strap children in as soon as they can before a long flight. Eventually boarding was called – First and Gold Card holders (I didn’t get a prize for being both) which is not the protocol – it should have been First first, then Club and then the Executive Club.
I settled into 1A – whilst I have been in First on a 747 before, I was not able to select the from row as I was not a Gold Card holder. Not knowing when the opportunity may present itself again, I took it. Unfortunately 1K was also taken by a GCH so I was not able to move my wife up alongside. The seat is bigger than the current BA Club World offering, and there was a nice sleep pillow and a cushion on the seat. There is no locker above 1A but I was able to use the one above 2A for my carry on, given that people had managed to fill the wardrobe before I boarded. A pre-take off glass (or two!) of LPGS was offered, along side a sleep suit and wash bag.
The former comes in small, medium and large, and I am pleased to say that L was big enough for me, who is at the larger end of the spectrum. The latter comes in a male and female version (what about gender non-binary, BA?!) and is a new design by Liberty of London, although contains the same toothbrush, comb, pen and moisturisers as the previous version.
After take off, menus were distributed and a pre-dinner G&T and warm nuts arrived at seat. We opted to dine a-deux about an hour after take off; being in First you can dine when you want but it was dinner time at home and lunch time in Washington so it seemed right. The buddy seat is perfect for a companion to dine, but they need to be petit – my wife was very comfortable, but at 5ft6 and a size 8 she doesn’t take up as much space as I do – I would certainly have struggled to fit in the buddy seat for dinner.
We started with an appetiser of some kind, followed by a baked camembert.
I had a salad course, and this was followed by sea bass and a salmon and asparagus salad.
The wine was a Puilly-Fuisse which was absolutely delicious – dry and crisp. For dessert we had ice cream and a cheese plate, with a glass of Bordeaux, followed by coffee and chocolates.
What I love about both the inflight dining and the food in the Concorde Room is that the portions are small; you can have three or four courses and not be stuffed, and if you are hungry you can always have some more or try something else. The quality was superb, and the onboard crew were fantastic
About 100 minutes out, the crew offered ‘afternoon tea’. I am not sure this was strictly that, given that the last time I flew in First to New York we were given scones and cream, but that was a lunch time departure. Given that it was after midnight back home, a midnight feast would have been more appropriate than afternoon tea. It consisted of some average sandwiches and a selection of bite sized cakes which were delicious. Again, it was small, but it hit the spot.
The eagle-eyed reader will realise that I have written at length about the service and the food, but not the seat. That is not unintentional – it just isn’t worth writing about. Don’t get me wrong – First class is great, but the hard product does leave a lot to be desired. In the last 12 months I have flown London – San Francisco in BA’s Club World, Madrid to Miami in Iberia’s Business cabin and Miami to London in American’s Business class seat, as well as transatlantic economy legs with American and BA. In all honesty, the seat in First is no better, and perhaps not as good, as the seats that Iberia and American have in their business cabins. It is much nicer and more spacious than Club World, but remember that Lufthansa put 8 seats in the same floorspace that BA squeeze 14 in their First cabin. The in flight entertainment system was poor, with a rubbish choice of films and a really low-quality resolution on the screen.
We used a BA AmEx 2for1 voucher, 160,000 Avios and about £1000 in taxes for our return First class flights, spending 40,000 Avios on the uplift from Club to First. That works out at 10,000 Avios per person each way, which is a return flight to Nice or about £150 in value to me; so I could see it that the premium of First over Club was £600. If it was hard cash then I would have to think twice about spending that. The value is also lessened given that I can use the First Wing and priority boarding as a Gold Card holder. Today, my Avios got me a better meal in the lounge, a pre-booked massage, more space on the plane, nicer food and some excellent service. Given that the Avios didn’t cost me anything then it is a no-brainer. I would always choose to travel in First If I have the Avios to do so, but would rather do two trips in Club rather than one in First and one in the back of the place.
British Airways do have some upgrades coming in their Club World cabin, but these enhancements to the soft product still leave it well behind that of their competitors and fellow oneWorld Alliance members. I can only hope that these will be followed by similar upgrades to the First seat otherwise it won’t matter how good the service is. In the meantime, however, I am happy to sit back and relax, whilst the team look after me!