Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of flying first class on long haul flights with a number of world-class airlines, including Lufthansa, Asiana, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Swiss International Air Lines, Korean Air, United Airlines and Gulf Air … but this afternoon at London’s Heathrow Airport as I walked towards security happily holding a boarding pass already upgraded to business class I was informed by security that my boarding pass was not valid and I’d need to walk back to the British Airways customer service desk.
Once at the customer service desk I was met with a pleasant surprise, my boarding pass was not valid because my seat had been upgraded to first class. In all fairness I am sure it didn’t hurt that while in London I attended a British Airways gallery event with the airline’s CEO who was showing off the new first class seat and on my flight home is the airline’s Vice President of Corporate Communications … but hey, I’ll take my upgrades where I can get them…
…anyway my following comments regarding British Airways’ new First Class cabin and seats are completely my own. If an airline product doesn’t wow me chances are I won’t write about it, its not worth my effort, which is one reason I don’t do a lot of product review (warning this trip has actually spawned two product reviews, the hotel I stayed at is by far the best hotel I have stayed at anywhere in the world, hands down).
So, enough with the disclaimers and on with my thoughts on the new British Airways first class cabin and seats.
In my experience the vast majority of first class products are usually a slightly larger personal space than business class, with some enhancements to the cabin services, however British Airways’ new first class product has not only installed new seats that are possibly the best product offered by any European airline, but they have created an entirely new cabin environment and coupled it with their existing stellar service level to create a first class experience that I quite honestly I have not experienced with any airline.
I am sure some people will read this and immediately point out that Singapore Airlines offers a completely enclosed private suite with full bed and an unrivaled personal service level, however the Singapore Airlines suites are only available on the Airbus A380, and that class is considered a ‘class above first.” British Airways’ new First Class is not intended to create the personal apartment in the sky environment.
When you enter the new British Airways First Class cabin and look at the seats, the first thing you notice is that the standard airplane windows have been replaced with what appears to be a large rectangular window. The new window view is a large window pane placed over two standard window portals given passengers the sense of a brighter less confined personal environment while in their seat. Rather than standard plastic pull down window shades, an automated window shade that changes colours during the flight that is behind the glass.
Once in the seat the feel of the seat is relaxed, even when in the full upright position allowing passengers to relax from the moment they sit down. The new British Airways First Class seat goes step further than other seats with its angle of recline from seat to bed being controlled by a dial rather than buttons. The use of a dial allows for the ultimate control in finding the position for maximum comfort for the duration of a long flight.
Most First Class airline seats, while comfortable and spacious are a ‘straight line design,’ meaning the seat space is from head to toe with minimal elbow room and space to keep items in your reach, but out of the way. The spacial area surrounding the new British Airways First Class seats leaves significant space by the passenger’s feet to place a bag (or in my case, two cameras, a laptop and an iPad) without impeding the personal space or any comfort.
While there are some nice touches, like an area light with a glass lampshade and a large foldaway tray table that sits tucked away inside a side table … the one personal touch that stands out is the personal closet. Normally in business class and first class when you sit down and a flight attendant asks if they can take your coat then you tuck your shoes under the seat … in the design of British Airways’ new First Class the personal space is designed with a personal closet. Right at your side is a closet to hang your coat and a space to tuck away your shoes. I know the closet might seem trivial, but really the space convenience and use of the shoe area (which fits a laptop, iPad and shoes for take off) is really the design feature I’d love to see other airlines adopt and integrate into their premium cabin products.
From my previous experience with British Airways’ business class, the personal service and attention to detail from the flight attendants is exactly what I expected … its stellar and closer to service I’ve experienced with most Asian airlines rather than with other European carriers in first class.
While first class seats are generally well outside the price range of most passengers (myself very much included…I usually upgrade using miles) for those who are seeking an outstanding first class experience to or from Europe … right now the only choice for a true full first class experience would be British Airways’ new first class product.
Below are 16 photos of British Airways’ new First Class that I shot during my flight home (OK, I shot the photo of the BA 777-236ER landing before the flight)
…now off to try and win the lottery so I can try and afford a few first class tickets.