This is my review of British Airways Flight 280 from LAX to LHR, in First. I’ll start now, by saying this is possibly quite a long review!
I believe BA operate 3 flights returning from LAX to London, which are the pre-Covid19 flights. The flight times are around 16:00, 18:00 and 21:30.
Usually, when flying from LAX it’s my preference to take the 21:30, as it lands in London around 15:30 – and is a great way to kill of any jet lag!
However, I had landed from San Jose at 11am, and whilst I didn’t mind spending a few hours in the airport – 10 hours did seems a little too extreme without a hotel room – especially after the Lounge issues I encountered!
Today’s Cabin was First. There is a very long story why I ended up in this Cabin – but for now, all I will say is watch out for some good deals!
With that said, my motivation to not be in Club World (even though the plane was fitted with Club Suites) was mostly down to my previous experiences of the very slow service in the 76-seat Club Suite 777-300!
Technically I checked in at San Jose, so there wasn’t a check in process to do in LAX. With that said there are THREE things I would highlight;
Because I checked in at San Jose, it was never explained to be about the Lounge Access, or rather lack of (see below);
For anyone connecting on an international route after a domestic flight, make sure you have all your Covid testing paperwork before you check in for the first flight;
Before boarding the international flight, you will be paged by the agents at the gate to re-check your Covid paperwork! Despite not being able to check in for your internal/domestic without it, it seems the paperwork doesn’t actually go all the way through!
As I mentioned above, the Lounge access was a bit of a tricky thing, because I wasn’t aware of the LAX issues!
My plan was to go to the Qantas Lounge and have lunch – the Qantas Lounge has always been exceptional. However, when I arrived, it was closed – despite the fact I’d read it had re-opened!
No problem, I thought, I’ll go to the OneWorld lounge. This was also closed! Strange, I thought, given the number of OneWorld flights leaving LAX.
No problem, I remembered I had my Priority Pass with me, and that I had previously used it to go to the KAL Lounge. Unfortunately, however, this didn’t work, as KAL were refusing entry to Priority Pass members!
Luckily, I had a trick up my sleeve! There is the Centurion Lounge, which I could access via my Amex card. When I got there, this was closed too!
Whilst I thought this was strange, my 5am start wasn’t quite making my brain work properly. So as a Plan E (and with plenty of time to spare) I decided to go to the Admirals Club in Terminal 5 – as it’s generally quieter than Terminal 4.
Having done a few hours of work in Terminal 5, I thought I’d (belatedly) re-research which lounges were available in Terminal B. After quite a bit of googling, I found that the Star Alliance Lounge was temporality accepting OneWorld passengers (or at least BA ones) – so after a while, I took a walk over there!
If you do happen to get caught short for a lounge – it’s around a 10/15 minute walk from Terminal B to Terminal 4. Or, if you prefer Terminal 5, it’s a further 10/15 minute walk from Terminal 4.
This was BA’s 777-300ER, G-STBM which was entered into service for BA in October 2020 – so it’s just over 1 year old!
The plane is fitted with 8 First, 76 Club Suites, 40 Premium and 132 Economy seats – a total of 256 seats.
Being fairly new, the plane was mostly in excellent condition!
The layout of First Cabin is actually very similar to that of the Club Suite cabin – 1-2-1 style. I was in seat 1E, so no window – however for various reasons (window seat) 2A became available before we took off.
Similar to that of the Club Suites (or is that Club Suites are similar to First?) doors create a ‘First Suite’ and make the area private. These doors are locked open of takeoff and landing.
There are quite a few storage areas in the suite;
Next to the seat at ‘head level’ there is cupboard with a mirror that can easily store your headphones in;
At ‘arm level’ there is storage area, with a closing lid. In this area you have 2 USB sockets, a multi-power outlet, headphone socket, and inside the area is the remote control for the entertainment;
Next to the footrest there is a fairly deep store, which you can easily put many pairs of shoes in;
There is also a closet style cupboard, which you can put your coat or shirt in.
The seat is large comfy seat which has a large adjustable footrest, that can pull back if you’re short like me! It seems that the footrest can be pulled back from its ‘in’ position during landing and takeoff. I guess this is because the position of it wouldn’t block you if you had to exit in an emergency.
The seat is controlled by a panel, which also controls overhead lighting and the table lamp which is next to the tray table. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t find the control panel particularly intuitive – and at times I was pressing it and nothing appeared to be happening. In absolute honestly, the Club Suite seat controls are by far more intuitive.
The tray table flicks out from the side. Unlike the Club Suite or Club World tables, this is around 1” thick and fairly solid. However, it is supported from one side, and did flex slightly when I placed my laptop on it.
One thing to say is that my tray table did have a chip on it. It was a small chip where the fold is. There was some criticism a while ago in a newspaper article from a couple who also found issues such as chips and damage.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. If I was paying £8,000+ (which is usually the retail price) I would expect everything to be perfect – and BA should, in my view, be checking every last detail in First to make sure it is perfect.
In my review of my flight on the way to LAX, I had complained about the lighting. The good news is the Suite didn’t have the same issues. Lighting was ceiling mounted so no annoying shadows!
One thing, in my opinion, BA have gone cheap on is air conditioning. The Club Suites don’t have individually controlled air conditioning nozzles – and nor does First. This means you are at the mercy of the cabin temperature – with no individual controls. In my view, this is a mistake.
Upon boarding, there was a pillow, blanket and small cushion waiting on the seat.
After dinner, BA offer a turndown service, and made the bed for me. A mattress was placed on the seat (in lay flat), with a quilt and pillow.
I have to say this was extremely comfortable – I had 6 hours of solid sleep….though the wine may have had something to do with it!
Food and Drink
I was slightly surprised by what was available on the drinks side of the menu. When I got home, I compared the drinks menu in First to my outbound flight in Club World, and it was (with exception to the wine) substantially the same.
The beers were the same, so were the spirits, cocktails, etc – apart from a few minor differences. Whilst this this wasn’t a major (I wasn’t treating the flight as a ‘bender’) it does start to question what the differences between Club and First really are – and where the differences in price are justified.
Before the flight took off, I was asked what I wanted to drink. I could have literally anything – whereas Club World is either the binary water or champagne. There are Tax and Duty reasons for this.
I took the champagne which was Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siecle NV. A bottle of this is around £165.
Before takeoff I was handed a menu and later asked what I wanted to eat. In essence there is a 5-course meal (depending how you feel about desert).
The firstcourse is canapés. I was able to strike deal with my cabin crew member Harriet, to swap the canapés for nuts….. I don’t really do canapés – so the nuts were welcomed. I had this with a Heineken.
The second course is a choice of starters;
Vietnamese rainbow rolls
Midwest beef carpaccio
Horseradish infused beetroot salad
Because I don’t do fancy food (I really didn’t fancy raw beef) and I don’t eat fish, the salad was the most appetizing for me. I surprised myself, the salad was actually very nice!
Also brought with the salad was a bread basket…….yes a bread basket – it seems a dim and distant memory from the old Club World days!
The third course was the main, options available were;
Braised Midwest beef cheeks
Grilled fillet of cod
Green pea and mint ravioli
Whichever option you pick you are given a bowl of sides, which include kale, carrots, courgette and lentils. I’d have preferred a bowl of fries – but there you!
I went for the beef. The beef was nice…..very nice. BUT I think the bowl of sides would better with a potato option – for example the roast potatoes from the Club menu?
Along with my main I had the Chateau de Fieuzal, Cru Classe de Pessac-Leognan 2011. It was an excellent choice!
I could have had a Port, but I chose to stay on the red wine – given that I didn’t want to mix things up too much!
Suffice to say, fancy food is wasted on me…….but the food I had was excellent, and I’m glad I experienced First’s dining experience.
After that it was bedtime. If, for whatever reason, you can’t sleep or don’t want to there is a snack service available.
Before bed Harriet, asked if I wanted to be woken for breakfast. I don’t really eat breakfast, so I said an hour or so before landing was fine.
Breakfast options were;
Full English breakfast
Mushroom and spinach frittata
Wholemeal banana and oak pancakes
I elected for a more simplified set of pastries and toast with a cup of tea! Tea served in a teapot (with tongs for the sugar)! Very nice my ‘breakfast’ was too!
I have to say my amenity kit was lovely – it was made by Temperley of London (whoever they are)! It was a lovely green velvet feeling bag, jampacked with the following;
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Pen (this time actually branded!)
Shaving gel (still not sure why!)
This felt premium – unlike the usual BA amenity kit given out in Club. My only regret was not asking for a kit for Mrs Neil!
After handing out my amenity kit, Harriet then asked if I wanted pajamas. I said yes please, and she brought me pajamas and slippers. I couldn’t be bothered with the faff of putting them on pre-takeoff – so they’re now safely in the drawer at home!
First passengers can have one of their devices on the BA wifi for free. Unfortunately, this like the paid service, cannot be changed – so pick your device wisely!
Personally, I like to use my phone for reading (or Whatsapping/Communicating) and my laptop for emails and work. So, I prefer to have both devices on the wifi. However, I don’t usually need to use both at once, so it would be nice to have the option to logout of one and login to the other.
Sadly, this isn’t possible with BA’s system – I’ve no idea why – I’ve floated the idea to them many times!
So, in short, First’s wifi is only free if you need it on one device, and don’t want to have a different device connected to it later on!
The IFE on this flight is mainly operated by a remote control. This remote control is buried in the storage next to the seat – took me a while to find it! It seems to be exactly the same system at used in the Club Suites?
The screen is large, comparable with the Club Suites (not sure exactly what the difference in size is).
Other than that, content wise, it’s exactly the same as Club…..and possibly Premium and Economy. I noticed no difference in entertainment available between the two, having flown in Club just days earlier.
One thing I wasn’t very impressed by was the headphones. I used BA’s as I couldn’t be bothered to get mine out. The weren’t particularly noise cancelling, I’d say – and gave the impression of being a bit cheap.
Looking after me in first was Harriet (mainly) and Sophy.
When I boarded the flight from door 2L, Sophy escorted me to my seat. It was a bit of a “here you are” and she walked back to the galley. There was no real “do you need any help, can I show you X or Y”…………so it felt a bit pointless and more of a box ticked.
The person looking after throughout the flight was Harriett. She was absolutely excellent!
Her approach, her tone, her eagerness to help; were in my view the pinnacle of how First should be. Nothing ever seemed too much trouble, she proactively offered more drinks, proactively offered to make my bed, proactively went around the cabin to check if everything was OK.
There was also a CSM called Oliver who briefly introduced himself to me. Oliver seemed very approachable, and again someone I would easily describe as a pinnacle of First. There was no ‘gold members’ speech, however.
If I was going to be nitpicky, there are two things that meant the service from the Cabin Crew wasn’t quite ‘perfect’;
The suite doors were locked, and no proactively unlocked until after dinner. Really, in my view, this should have been done immediately once the seatbelt lights were off.
At no point was I addressed by name.
For reasons I don’t quite understand (the flight appeared to be full), the flight was running the minimum amount of Cabin Crew required. This meant the safety demonstration had to be done twice. The Captain made the point that this is 6 minutes of a long haul flight worth watching – but, in reality, it was closer to 12. I won’t hold this against the Cabin Crew, it’s not their fault – but I doubt the second time around anyone actually listened. Still, it’s better than that hideous video!
The final point I would make about the Cabin Crew is that around 45 minutes before landing, a member I’d not seen before came around with the Flying Start envelopes.
Whilst a couple of other passengers stood up to get their loose change, I felt like this member was staring at me wondering why I wasn’t rushing to get my money out! He then pretty much shook the envelope in my face – where I felt obliged to explain I don’t carry cash.
If I am honest, the experience felt slightly pointed – as if there is the expectation that those flying in First should pull the loose change out of their pockets and put it in the envelope ‘because they have lots of money they could give to charity’. Not in several years of my flying has the charity envelope gone down the aisle BA flight – so they’re either re-starting it, or targeting the First cabin for donations. The old way used to be to have it on the door as passengers left the aircraft.
I’m not sure how I feel about the envelope shaking. Giving to charity is subjective, and we do things for charity we deem appropriate, in our own ways.
Landing in Heathrow
Once landed, we were disembarked by row number. This seems to make so much sense – I hope it stays! We’d landed at Terminal 5B (all BA long haul does from B or C gates), so it was the train to 5A, and through passport control. This took me literally all of 30 seconds!
Then, it was time to get my luggage. I am afraid, that ‘Priority Luggage’ doesn’t seem to exist any more, if it did in the first place! Once again, I waited around 30 minutes whilst every other cabin got their luggage!
BA’s Arrival Lounge was closed on this date, but I hope to review it soon!
(a rather long) Conclusion
This was a great flight, made particularly excellent be Harriet.
First is a great place to be with great service! Particularly when you consider this plane had 8 First suites, and 76 suites in Club! So that makes a clear difference. Especially on an overnighter where your sleep can be inhibited by slow cabin service.
The different bedding is nice, and I think (wine aside) made me sleep better. The cabin was a lot quieter, the furnishings were a lot nicer – and the amenity kit felt really quite premium, this time.
However, as someone who doesn’t do ‘fancy food’, or particularly care about the vintage of wine – some of the experience was probably lost on me! It was, however, nice to get back to the multi-course meals, and other touches that Club World is yet to restore.
Objectively, is there any real difference in product between the new Club Suites and First?
In my view, not really. A bit more storage, a bit more bedding, free Wifi for 1 device, multi-course food (which should be restored in Club), a marginally bigger suite, same entertainment, similar IFE to Club Suites and very similar drinks menu to Club. First is certainly better than Club – but it feels like a Club World Plus upgrade as opposed to an entirely unique experience. Then there is the chip on the table to talk about!
If there was a fare difference of £100-£200 (or a cheap upgrade), I may consider the difference as a treat……or because I’d probably spend £20 to £40 on Wifi in Club and drink the rest of the difference in booze…..or if I was going ultra-long-haul.
But I wouldn’t be happy to pay 4 or 5 times the money of Club, to fly First – even if its being paid for by the company! BA would need to at least install showers in their planes for that!
Score: 100 out of 103 – or 97%.
This was a VERY good flight, but I have down-marked on the Lounge food, in this case the Star Alliance Lounge as it lacking in variety. There is also a question as to where First passengers can go lounge wise, whilst Qantas is shut and access to Star Alliance’s First Lounge isn’t arranged by BA.
I’ve down-marked the ease of use on the seat, as frankly it wasn’t that easy to work out. I’ve also down-marked the plane’s toilets, as the felt no different to the rest of the cabin.
A very long review, with plenty to write about. I am sorry about that! But, hopefully it’s food for thought!