British Airways’ New First Class … a whole new experience

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.

Happy Flying!

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Comments

  1. JDK

    The photos were shot in flight, when all the lights were turned to dark to allow passengers to sleep, with a combo of a Canon EOS 5D and EOS 5D Mk II. The EOS 5D was fitted with a Canon 24f1.4L and the 5D Mk II with a Canon 16-35f2.8L. The majority were shot with the 16-35f2.8. Everything was shot hand held, most were shot at ISO 1250 around 1-second.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  2. Johnny

    Is to nice to finally meet up with you in London. I’ll be writing up the Browns Hotel in a day as well, you missed out not staying there!

    Remember how I showed you to hold your lens! :0)

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  3. Nice photos and nice write-up. You must try cathay pacific in the near future; their first class is is probably second to SQ.

  4. Daniel,

    I would try Cathay Pacific, but chances are I’d never get to experience their first class product. I have experienced their first class lounge and cabanas at HKG and they are fantastic!

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  5. Thanks for the report. I look forward to trying it out for myself later in the year.

    Some other airline’s first class also have personal closets – for example Turkish.

  6. Very interesting and indeed a very good review.

    One thing I noted though, you mentioned Virgin Atlantic first class?? not sure how you’ve managed to fly first class on Virgin Atlantic when they haven’t got a first class!! Upper Class is a business class product, not a first class product!

  7. Josh,

    You are correct, Virgin Atlantic has “Upper Class’ not “First Class.”

    Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class is sold as a “J” product, but is in many ways a hybrid of business class & first class when you factor in the ground experience and the in-flight experience. Virgin Atlantic choose to market Upper Class as a “J” (of business”) product because business travellers are often authorized to fly in business and not in first class, this is also why many airlines created the hyrbrid “premium economy” product to allow business travellers access to a better cabin product while still flying on “Y” ticket.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  8. Great report. I’ve been flying BA for years and usually used FF miles to upgrade to Business. In October I’m taking my first flight in First–only because no Business was not available for the date I’m flying. But now I’m excited!! There are no pictures of First on the BA site, so yours are very welcome–as is your report. I agree about the neat aspect of a place to tuck your shoes. Nothing worse than trying to find your shoes in the dark to go to the bathroom 🙂 Question: Do you have a seat choice recommendation? I’m a woman flying alone.

    Thanks!

  9. Fish,
    do you happen to know what lines BA is operating with this new First Class at this time?

    -john.

  10. John,

    As far as I know the new first class product is rotating through the British Airways route network, and is still presently only available on the 772 aircraft.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  11. Fish,

    Thanks so much for posting this article along with great pictures! I fly once or twice every year on BA in First and love every minute of it. Have flown SQ, Cathay, Qantas, and other Asian/European first but… BA beats them all! Can’t wait for my upcoming flight from LAX to LHR (747-400) and on to BOM (777) in the new First.

    According to the BA website, the rollout across the fleet should be complete by Spring 2012. You must have flown on one of the very first one! Awesome!

    Happy trails!
    Ken Jillson
    SAFARI AIR

  12. thanks for the info. I am on a BA flight ( first ) from Phoenix to London on Oct. 27 and after your review, I am more than excited. I will be upset on my forwarding economy flight to Belfast but it is a short one ha ha.

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