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The British Airways Premium Experience (Part 1)

The British Airways Premium Experience (Part 1)

Old Jul 22, 08, 10:20 am
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Arrow The British Airways Premium Experience (Part 1)

The British Airways Premium Experience (Part 1)
Please do not copy any of the text or images in this trip report without first contacting me for permission. Thank you.

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Introduction
In mid-April 2008, after weeks of deciding which destination to choose for our annual summer holiday, we finally settled upon a week in New York City in July. After careful consideration, we had decided that a week would be sufficient to see all the sights, at the same time allowing us to stay in the wonderful Ritz-Carlton Central Park hotel without breaking the bank too much.

This was to be my last summer holiday before going to university in London, so I wanted to ensure that the trip was that little bit extra special before having to endure 3 terms of eating baked beans out of cans! For the cost of 25,000 BA miles you can upgrade a paid Club World (business class) ticket to First (first class) for most destinations (with the exception of the Australia routes which require more miles). My mother had amassed roughly 30,000 BA miles in her BA Executive Club account, leaving us with a shortage of 20,000 to upgrade the both of us one way. After reading many fantastic trip reports of BA’s First service, I thought we just had to take the opportunity to experience an international first class service at a fraction of the normal cost. So I splashed out on purchasing the extra 20,000 miles for around GBP£370.00 in our BA Household Account.

At the time of booking it had been announced that the T4 to T5 longhaul flight moves at Heathrow had been delayed due to the T5 opening debacle in March, but we did not know the date of the JFK flight moves. I decided to upgrade the outbound sector, as I hoped to experience the new facilities that T5 had to offer – if not, we would be able to sample the original Concorde Room at T4 which I figured would be just as good. Luckily, BA announced in mid-May that the JFK flights would be amongst the first to move to T5 from T4 on June 5, making a total of 15 longhaul flights from T5 for the summer months of 2008.

I will refer to BA’s first class service as ‘First’ throughout this report, as it has recently been rebranded from ‘FIRST’ (presumably in preparation for the new First cabin interior supposedly being introduced in 2009).

I apologise that some of the following images are a little (and in some cases, very) blurred due to the fact that I didn’t use flash for the majority of them (to avoid disturbing other passengers and attracting attention).

Booking
BA’s online booking system is very good – it is intuitive to use and the instructions are simple to follow.

The only slightly annoying thing is that you cannot pre-assign seats before check-in unless you have a First or fully flexible ticket, are a BA/oneworld elite or are travelling with infants or someone with special needs. As we had F tickets on the outbound sector, this was not a problem, but we had to wait until check-in for the return flight to choose our CW seats as we were travelling on restrictive tickets. The booking system automatically assigned us seats 3K and 4K on the B747-400 (which I changed to 2K and 3K), with 2A and 3A reserved and 1AK blocked. BA blocks the most desirable seats in all cabins up until 72 hours before the flight, meaning they are only available to be reserved by high status passengers. The rest of the F cabin was empty, although as we had booked three months in advance things were likely to change. After consulting the FlyerTalk BA board, we chose 2K and 3K instead of either of the central pairs as we knew we could dine together using the ‘buddy seat’ and the window seats afforded more privacy (and a better view) and therefore hopefully enhanced the feeling of exclusivity!

The total cost of the flights was GBP£3001.60 (where did the £1.60 come from?!) plus 50,000 BA miles. It was to our slight annoyance that BA reduced the cost of each CW ticket by £200 about a week after we’d booked, meaning we lost out on £804.60. Such is life.

Over the next few weeks we booked the Ritz-Carlton Central Park hotel in New York and (as we live a fair distance from Heathrow) the Holiday Inn Heathrow M4 J4 for the night before our flight, which included car parking for 15 days. We had planned to book the Ritz-Carlton through BA’s website, but we encountered several error messages when trying to pay, so had to telephone. The chap on the end of the phone was professional, efficient and friendly (but not over-friendly, which is a good thing), booking us the hotel and travel insurance with the minimum of hassle.

UK Pre-Departure
I had been checking BA’s ‘Manage My Booking’ website practically every day since we booked in April to see how the First cabin was filling up. Two weeks before the outbound flight, only one more seat had been taken (4K), leaving seven out of 14 seats free.

24 hours out, at online check-in, all seats except 5EF and 1K (which had opened up 72 hours before the flight) were taken. Online check-in went without a hitch, and we printed our own boarding passes after confirming seats 2K and 3K.

The three hour journey up to Heathrow was uneventful, and I spotted several BA 747s flying low towards us along the M4 motorway as we neared the airport. The Holiday Inn Heathrow M4 J4 is situated just as its name suggests – right at the motorway junction. We asked for a room overlooking the airport, and we were given a fairly spacious room (for a Holiday Inn) overlooking the central three terminals. There were good views of taxiing aircraft and arriving/departing aircraft. I had hoped to book the Renaissance London Heathrow, which is situated right besides the 9L/27R runway, but no two-bedded rooms were available when we tried to book.

In fact, another hotel may have been a good idea as on the morning of our flight, the water system in the hotel decided to pack up! Luckily, we had run part of a bath that morning before the system failed, but it was still fairly uncomfortable not being able to have a shower. The hotel seemed to decide that one tiny bottle of mineral water was sufficient to provide for the sanitary needs of two people! We, not surprisingly, made a complaint and received a free taxi ride to the airport as compensation. We later found out that a fuse had blown, meaning water couldn’t be pumped to the rooms. When we arrived home just over a week later, we found an apology letter sitting on the mat, promising extra special service the next time we visit. Whilst I appreciate that it was probably a one-off event, I can assure them we won’t be visiting their Holiday Inn any time soon.

Outbound
Route: LHR (T5) – JFK (T7)
Date: Tuesday 8th July 2008
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA0175
Aircraft Type: B747-436
Aircraft Registration: G-BNLT (1991)
Seats: 2K, 3K
Class: First

Check-In & Security
We planned to have at least three hours before the flight to enjoy the lounges (which turned out to be too little time), and so left the hotel at around 07:00. The taxi driver took us the motorway route to Terminal 5, allowing us a good view of the building as we drew closer. The outside spaces have been nicely landscaped – a real departure from tradition. The drop-off area is located on the same level as check-in, which is the highest level (three) in the main terminal building (T5A). This means that you have to drive up a spiral ramp to the top of the terminal, where a fairly wide area has been constructed with shelters for when the British weather turns sour (which, let’s face it, is more often than not!). We asked the driver to drop us at the far end of the terminal, where the First check-in suite is located at check-in zone J.


T5 drop-off area


T5 drop-off area

Entering the terminal from the drop-off area first involves crossing a pedestrian bridge over the courtyard area between the terminal building and the car park structure. Whilst a bit of a waste of space and a little dark, this courtyard area features trees and seating areas, going some way to soften the gigantic glass and steel structure behind.


One of the several entrances to level 3 (departures) of T5


One of the pedestrian bridges spanning the courtyard


View of the courtyard from one of the bridges

Once inside the terminal, you really get a feel of how spacious the building is – it really is very impressive.


View of the check-in area to the north just after passing over the bridge


View of the check-in area to the south just after passing over the bridge

One of the most noticeable features of the new terminal is how clearly everything is signed. Each check-in zone is signed by an enormous letter mounted on a cube, and there are plenty of information screens throughout the terminal.


Information cube at check-in zone G

Moving between departures and arrivals is also very clear – it’s just a matter of travelling down in a lift or escalator.


One of the escalators linking departures and arrivals

After passing over the bridge, we made our way to check-in zone J, where the First check-in suite is located. This area is exclusively for passengers travelling in First or BA Executive Club Gold members. One criticism of T5 by regular travellers is that the terminal was not designed with an exclusive check-in area for passengers travelling in Club World or Club Europe (international and European business class respectively) or BA Executive Club Silver members. As I write this however, it is rumoured that BA are to reverse their decision, and designate an area for these passengers’ use. Also of regular discussion is the fact that BA did not provide a ‘complete’ premium check-in experience (such as that offered by Virgin Atlantic at T3 for their Upper Class passengers) with a drive-through check-in area and dedicated security all in one area. BA is constructing a similar experience at JFK T7 for First passengers and Gold members, so it is a mystery as to why no such area was included in the T5 designs.


Entrance to the First check-in area

At the entrance desk, an agent checked our itinerary (printed online) to make sure we were eligible to use the First area. Our check-in time took around ten minutes – nine minutes too long for an international first class service. This seemed to be due to the two check-in agents having problems at their desks, so after around five minutes a friendly customer service agent took us over to the First customer service desk and checked us in, issuing card boarding passes and attaching First luggage labels to our bags. He also handed us the necessary US customs forms and directed us to FastTrack security and the Concorde Room after taking our bags over to the now cleared check-in desks to weigh our bags, ask us the usual security questions and tag our luggage.


First check-in desks


First check-in desks


First check-in desks


First customer service desk

Unlike some other carriers, BA make their best customers stand to check-in (shock!), although there are seating areas along the sides of the First check-in suite, in order to let passengers sort out their paperwork, etc.


First check-in seating areas

After checking in we made our way over to the south security area (there is another security area at the northern end of the terminal). There was no FastTrack boarding pass inspection, which could be annoying if queues were long. Once through this check, there is FastTrack security screening to the right of the normal security channels. It’s so annoying to see 10 or so channels and yet only four open – only one of which was allocated to FastTrack (available to First, Club World, Club Europe passengers and Gold and Silver members). As a result, we had to queue for around 10 minutes, which probably wasn’t that much shorter than for the normal security channels. Whilst passengers no longer have to take laptops out of their cases, BAA (the airport operator) still use a ‘shoes off’ policy. I managed to set the metal detector off (presumably due to my belt), and so got the pat-down treatment and zap with the hand-held metal detector. A few benches are provided at the end of screening to enable you to sort all your things out, but I can foresee this area becoming quickly clogged with people during busy times (we went through at about 07:30) and when more flights are using the terminal.

Lounges & Boarding
There are currently five lounges open to premium passengers, with another due to open when the remaining longhaul flights move from T4 to T5 in the autumn. In the South Lounges complex are the Concorde Room (for First passengers), Galleries First (for First passengers and Gold members) and a Galleries Club (for Club World and Club Europe passengers, Business UK ticketholders and Silver members). At the northern end of the terminal is another Galleries Club lounge, with yet another opening in the satellite T5B in the autumn. For arriving passengers travelling in First or Club World and longhaul Gold members, there is the Galleries Arrivals lounge in T5A. All of the BA operated lounges throughout the network are being refurbished into the new Galleries concept.

The entrance to the Concorde Room is located to the right just after passing through south security. Apparently BA paid BAA a lot of money to enable First passengers to avoid the shopping mall. All other passengers have to access the South Lounges complex via the shopping mall level. In addition to a large free-standing sign pointing the way to all the lounges and explaining access requirements, there is a lounge agent standing by a podium outside the entrance to the Concorde Room to point ineligible people in the right direction. Indeed, I witnessed several people being turned away, including one person who stood waving his Gold card for a good minute before he finally accepted defeat and slouched off in the other direction.

After glancing at our boarding passes, the female lounge agent on the podium directed us through the nondescript double doors and asked us to check in with another staff member at the desk just inside the lounge. The entrance to the T5 Concorde Room is much more understated than that of its LHR T4 and JFK T7 counterparts, which kind of matches the interior which is a lot more luxurious and of a ‘classic’ feel.


Concorde Room entrance from south security taken from inside the lounge

We checked in at the single-person desk to the left after passing through a small lobby-corridor. Straight ahead is the exit to the main lounge complex, to the right are the washrooms, cabanas (mini en-suite bedrooms), customer services and luggage store and to the left is the lounge itself – all one large, open plan area. Features include the Board Room (business suite), Concorde Bar, Concorde Open Terrace and Concorde Dining.


Washroom/cabana corridor looking into the lounge and the check in desk


Entrance to one of the three cabanas on the left


Washroom corridor


Interior of one of the male washrooms

Our first move was to go and have breakfast in the Concorde Dining area. This area features mini booths which are fairly private, and is nicely lit and furnished. I didn’t manage to make a note of the menu, but it is waiter service and available throughout the lounge (not just in Concorde Dining) and changes to suit the time of day.

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Concorde Dining entrance


Concorde Dining


Concorde Dining


Concorde Dining


One of the Concorde Dining booths


Perusing the Concorde Dining breakfast menu

I opted for the full English breakfast with a pot of English breakfast tea, whilst my mother went for branflakes, scrambled eggs and coffee. After placing our order, the tea and coffee was brought quickly, but the waiter had to be reminded twice of our order and consequently took 30 minutes to bring it. This dramatically reduced our relaxing time in the lounge, and something which actually spoilt the experience a little. Whilst the quality of the breakfast was fairly good, the service was terribly inefficient. When our food eventually was delivered, my mother’s scrambled egg was presented before the branflakes, meaning she had to refuse the branflakes later when the waiter eventually brought them.


Tea and coffee


Full English breakfast in front with scrambled eggs behind

Given that our gate was now showing as B38, we allowed 30 minutes to get over to the satellite terminal and board the flight before the gate closed 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time (10:25). We had around an hour left to enjoy the Concorde Room and so strolled out onto the Concorde Open Terrace, which is much larger than that in Galleries First. There are great views of arriving and departing aircraft and the action between T5A and T5B.


View from the Concorde Open Terrace to T5B


View of a taxiing BA B747


View down to the main T5A departure lounge


View down to the main T5A departure lounge


View across to security south


View of the entrance to the transit to T5B


View down to part of the T5A gate area


Open Terrace


Open Terrace


Open Terrace


Open Terrace

We didn’t really have enough time to explore the rest of the lounge, but I could see there were ample seating areas, which looked very comfortable.


Seating area


Seating area


Seating area


Seating area


Projected image above one of the fireplaces


Looking over to the Concorde Bar


Looking over to the Concorde Bar


Concorde Bar

Our last stop in the Concorde Room was the Board Room, to check the weather in New York, which luckily was rather hot and sunny! The Board Room features genuine Concorde chairs taken from a retired Concorde aircraft including seatbelt, tray table and lifejacket information! The PCs rise out of the table and offer very fast Internet access. The room was small, but most impressive. My only criticism is that perhaps it may become crowded when several flights depart close together, as there are only seven PCs.


Board Room sign

Due to the breakfast debacle, we didn’t really have time to visit either of the Galleries Clubs, and so we only made a quick stop in Galleries First before taking the transit to T5B. After exiting the Concorde Room via the main lounge complex, the Elemis Travel Spa is to the right and Galleries First is straight ahead. The escalators and lifts down to the main departure lounge and up to Galleries Club are to the left. In the large lobby between the Concorde Room and Galleries First is the ‘clock wall’, displaying the current time in various countries around the world.


Escalators up to the south lounge complex from the main departure lounge


Blurred image of escalators up to Galleries Club


Looking towards Galleries First in the lobby


Looking towards the Concorde Room and the Elemis Travel Spa in the lobby


Blurred image of the Elemis Travel Spa entrance

The Elemis Travel Spa offers complimentary 15 minute massages to First and Club World passengers and Gold members. Neither of us really fancied giving it a go, and we didn’t have time to even if we’d wanted to. I’m sure they are very relaxing though.

Upon entering Galleries First and seeing our boarding passes, the lounge agents initially directed us to the Concorde Room but I said we’d already been there and were just being nosy, to which they welcomed us in. After the Concorde Room, the very large Galleries First lounge doesn’t appear very luxurious, but is far superior to any of the old style BA lounges found at other airports.


Galleries First seating area


Galleries First seating area

We picked up a few magazines and information leaflets on the new lounges and then made our way back downstairs and towards the transit area. The transit is accessed down lifts or escalators and along a nondescript underground corridor. The transit trains are driver-less and run automatically every few minutes. They only take around 30 seconds to travel between T5A and T5B. Whilst a little crowded, they are fairly roomy inside. A good idea would perhaps be to have a carriage at the front for premium passengers to avoid interrupting the premium experience.


Walking down one of the long escalators to the transit area

T5B is no less impressive than T5A – bright and airy just like its larger counterpart. Most longhaul flights depart from T5B, and as such there are fixed FastTrack boarding lanes – but still no second airbridges. We arrived at B38 to find the flight already boarding, and skipped the boarding pass inspection queue by using the FastTrack lane. In response to my questioning look the gate agent just said ‘If you’re in first or business just go straight through’ - there was no actual check to see if we were eligible. After the boarding pass inspection, we walked along the single airbridge, connected to door 2L. The most exciting part so far was about to begin...


View of T5A from the airbridge

Onboard
The flight attendant inspecting boarding passes at the door literally leapt into action as soon as she saw ‘02K’ printed as my seat number. She immediately welcomed us onboard (although not be name) and walked us to our seats, through the mini Club World cabin (signifying that this was a 70J seat plane) to the First cabin, located in the nose of the 747.

As soon as we were beside our seats (in the so far empty cabin), two other female flight attendants appeared and asked whether we’d be sleeping and would we like a set of pyjamas each, to which we both replied yes. She asked what size I’d like, and I went with large just to be on the safe side! Newspapers were also offered, to which we both took a Daily Telegraph. Whilst the flight attendants got the pre-flight drinks ready in the galley, I managed to snap a picture of the ‘A’ seats in the First cabin.


‘A’ seats in the First cabin

The First seats currently in use by British Airways were first introduced in 1995, and have undergone a few minor modifications in design over the years. By comparison to many other world-class airlines, these seats are looking a little tired and are soon to be replaced by a new First design (rumoured to be based on the Qantas First Class seat on their A380s). However, the cabin looked almost spotless on this aircraft. The seat is 6’6” long, goes completely flat, has a handy magazine storage section in the back of the seat in front , features a ‘gooseneck’ reading light and (possibly the handiest feature of them all) there is a large shelf between the actual seat and the window panels. The sides of the seat are decorated in a wood effect finish, with the seat fabric being a pleasing grey colour. The footrest doubles up as an ottoman (or ‘buddy seat’). There are power ports at each seat.

The AVOD (Audio Visual On Demand) touchscreen was out ready for the safety briefing and on the seat was a padded cushion, with larger pillows available. Under the buddy seat was a bedding pack and on top of the buddy seat were the Anya Hindmarch designed amenity kit, slippers and a blanket.

The two flight attendants serving the First cabin turned out to be one male and one female (the First purser). We were offered pre-flight drinks, to which I took an orange juice and were also presented with nuts in a dish.


Pre-flight drink and nuts with the AVOD screen out


View from one of the three windows before pushback

The cabin slowly filled up, with the exception of seats 1K, 5K and both the central pairs (it appeared that there had been a few last minute cancellations since we checked in online). Mr 5A talked loudly on his phone until the seatbelt sign was switched on, and then thankfully shut up. Mr 1A decided he found putting his feet up against the wardrobe (just to the right of his seat) quite comfortable, and remained in this position until one of the flight attendants came to store the newspapers for takeoff.

The captain made an announcement once everyone was on board, welcoming us and apologising that there would be a 30 minute delay as a bag was offloaded. This delay was fine by me, as I wanted the flight to last as long as possible! The captain announced a flying time of approximately 6 hours 40 minutes – 50 minutes shorter than usual. During our time on the ground waiting for the bag to be offloaded, I decided I’d like a bottle of water and put the call bell to test. The response was lightning fast, and this set the tone for the rest of the service throughout the flight – almost faultless and very efficient.

We pushed back at 10:44, and made the long taxi past the central three terminals to runway 27L – spotting a Singapore Airlines A380 at T3 (my first sighting of the type). During the taxi, the safety video was played and the flight attendant pointed out the emergency exits to the rear of the cabin. Interestingly (or perhaps worryingly?) the safety video for the B777 was shown. There is little difference between the videos apart from the location of the emergency exits, but surely this is against some kind of regulation?

We were in a queue for takeoff behind a United Airlines B777 in old style livery. I had a great view from my seat through the three windows of the runway as we turned into position as the UA plane was still on the runway. The takeoff roll felt surprisingly short for such a large aircraft, and was much quieter than both the B767 and A330 (being in the nose of the aircraft, I presume). One thing that is very noticeable is the sound of the nosewheel being raised and lowered, and could be quite disconcerting if you didn’t know what it was.

Shortly after we were airborne, the CSD (Cabin Services Director) made a welcome announcement and introduced us to the three pursers onboard. I wasn’t aware of the CSD visiting the First cabin at all, although he may have done at some point when I wasn’t paying attention. The menu and wine list were both handed out shortly after this announcement (both with the new First logo), which I enjoyed perusing through:

Menu – Lunch

Starters
Liam Tomlin’s salad of poached lobster with mango slices on iceberg lettuce and cucumber
Blanched tender tips of asparagus with warm Hollandaise sauce
Gazpacho with diced green peppers
Fresh salad leaves with your choice of balsamic vinaigrette or cucumber and mint dressing

Main
Michel Roux’s fillet of beef with cherry tomato sauce, baby vegetable ratatouille, Parisienne potatoes and green beans
Catch of the Day with your choice of sage butter or puttanesca sauce served with potatoes dauphinoise and roast parsnips
Braised lamb shank with shallot jus, glazed carrots, buttered savoy cabbage and rosemary mashed potatoes
Caesar salad with prawn and crayfish

Dessert
Gooseberry and ginger fool in a tuile basket with clotted cream
Michel Roux’s warm lemon pudding with lemon syrup

Cheese Plate
Cornish Camembert
White Stilton with Ginger
Dovedale Blue
A basket of fresh fruit

Snacks
Tandoori chicken baguette
Rocket ravioli with creamy mushroom sauce or Mascarpone cheese and sun-dried tomato sauce served with garlic and herb croute
A selection of biscuits
A selection of cheese and fruit

Beverages
Twinings Teas
Twinings Fruit and Herb Infusions
Coffee

I won’t write out the wine list here, but if there are any wine buffs reading this who would like to know what was on the menu, just post a comment and I’ll make the effort! The male flight attendant who served us lunch was very pleasant and gladly allowed me to take two copies of the menu and wine list away with me. He asked my mother what time she would like to eat (First passengers being able to choose a time that suits them), and she informed him that we’d like to eat together at her seat at around 13:00 London time. The flight attendant came and checked with me that this was alright, to which I replied yes it was.

For my starter I opted for the salad leaves, to which the flight attendant recommended the lobster salad, so I ended up receiving both starters! I chose my entrée as the fillet of beef, with lemon pudding providing the stoge. My mother went with the salad leaves, Catch of the Day (which was Dover sole) and the cake selection from the afternoon tea menu (which I’ve written later in the trip report).


View from one of my three windows shortly after breaking through the cloud on our ascent


Menu and wine list

Canapés were served shortly after the menus were handed out at 11:25, which were very tasty indeed (although the chicken one was a little tough). After the canapés, several other passengers had their tables laid and lunch presented, which made me feel rather hungry and wishing we’d asked for lunch sooner!


Mr 1A eating his starter and Mrs 2A reading a magazine (Mrs 2A’s husband was in seat 3A)

I turned my attention to the in-flight entertainment (IFE), which is now AVOD in all classes on all BA B747s. Previously, First seats used to have a tape player in the side to allow for a wider choice of movies, but this was removed when the IFE system was upgraded with the installation of NGCW (Next Generation Club World). There were hundreds of options to choose from, but nothing I recognised as wanting to watch, so I settled for a new release entitled ‘Flawless’, simply because it had a more interesting-sounding title than any of the other options! This turned out to be a very good film, and it helped that the AVOD functioned throughout the flight without a single hitch (although sometimes the screen was slow to respond to touch commands). One feature that my mother tried, though, but wasn’t working was the daily news feature. The screen was also rather small, but this will presumably be rectified when new First rolls out across the fleet in the coming years. The noise reducing headsets which BA provides in First and Club World are much more effective than those which Air Canada provides in Executive First (their business class service).

The table at 3K was laid for both of us at about 12:50.


Table at 3K laid for lunch, as seen from the buddy seat


Lobster salad in front with my St Clements and salad leaves behind


Fillet of beef in front with Dover sole behind


Lemon pudding in front with cake selection behind

The buddy seat was fairly uncomfortable – hard and narrow, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be sitting on it for any lengthy period of time (it almost felt like being in whY!). After we had both finished, a large box of Lily O’Brien’s chocolates was presented (which were very tasty indeed!).

Most of our fellow First passengers asked for their beds to be made and fell asleep until afternoon tea was served, but I was quite happy finishing my film and then just enjoying being in First. Before most passengers were asleep, a fruit bowl and the, by now, substantially lighter box of chocolates were placed on the small table in front of 4EF, along with bottles of Highland Spring mineral water. The mood lighting (only available in First) was switched on, but being a day flight, was not really necessary. I kept my eye on the flight information screen after the film had finished, noticing that we were cruising at an average 580mph at 38,000ft. I did recline the seat fully flat just to test it out, but declined the offer from the flight attendant for it to be made into a proper bed. The seat was very comfortable, even without a mattress.


Mr 1A’s laptop with the sun peaking through the blinds just before afternoon tea service

Afternoon tea was served around one and a half hours before landing. The menu was as follows:

Menu – English Afternoon Tea

Snacks
A selection of sandwiches
Chicken and tomato chutney lattice pie

Patisserie
Plain or fruit scones served with warm clotted cream and strawberry jam
Chocolate Florentine, chocolate éclair and classic Victoria sponge

Beverages
Twinings Teas
Twinings Fruit and Herb Infusions
Coffee

I opted to stay at 2K, given that I had found the buddy seat fairly uncomfortable during lunch. The chicken and tarragon mayonnaise sandwiches followed by scones was delicious, served with a pot of tea.


Afternoon tea sandwiches in front with scones behind


View into the legroom area of seat 2K before landing


View of the First cabin in the nose of the B747 before landing


Seat 2A during a loo break for its occupant!

The moving map was very useful during the last portion of the flight, as we followed the Canadian and US east coast down to New York. One of the flight attendants came by and offered me a questionnaire, which I believe is customary practice in the First cabin to gain feedback from BA’s ‘best’ passengers. I strangely enjoy filling out surveys, so happily obliged before filling in the necessary landing cards (which were offered by the crew in case any passenger hadn’t received them at First check-in). Our IFE screens were stowed as the seatbelt sign was switched on. I had noticed during the flight that one of the seatbelt/no smoking signs had its cover fixed the wrong way around, meaning that it was the no smoking sign that went on and off and the seatbelt sign was continuously on. This had caused some confusion earlier in the flight for a few passengers.

Our descent began at approximately 17:15 London time whilst a 20 minute landing announcement was made by the captain, signalling the beginning of the end to a wonderful first First experience.

We landed onto runway 31R, which is one of the shorter runways at JFK. As a result, we braked extremely sharply on touchdown, so sharply in fact that the water bottle that was sitting on the window shelf flew all the way to the buddy seat. As we pulled up to the gate at Terminal 7 (which was either gate 2 or 3, it’s hard to tell from Google Earth!) the captain announced that we’d be on the ground for another 10 minutes or so as a high-loader needed to be moved, and they couldn’t find the driver. Once again, this was all fine by me as it meant another 10 minutes relaxing in the First cabin. We eventually pulled up on stand next to an ANA B777 to the left, and a fellow BA B747 to the right.


Fellow B747 being pushed back from the next door gate at JFK Terminal 7


Action on the tarmac at JFK Terminal 7

The crew held back the masses from the rear cabins as First passengers disembarked and wished us a safe onward journey.

Arrival
It’s always great when, as soon as you step off the aircraft, a blast of warm air hits you in the face - it reinforces that you really are in a foreign country. We made our way down what felt like miles of drab enclosed corridors (compared to LHR T5, at least) until we emerged in the immigration hall, to be met by a multitude of announcements along the lines of ‘DO NOT USE YOUR MOBILE PHONE’ and ‘DO NOT PROCEED BEYOND THE YELLOW LINE’. Welcome to the US of A.

Immigration turned out to be painless enough, but I was very glad that we’d been first off the plane as by the time we were being cleared through to the baggage hall, the queue looked like something from a Harry Potter book launch. Interestingly, although BA own Terminal 7 at JFK, there is no FastTrack line at immigration for premium passengers.

Our bags took around five minutes to appear on the carousel, which wasn’t too bad considering that the carousel looked pretty empty, so I presume they were amongst the first off the aircraft. Customs was also a painless affair – we were just waved through and then on our way to find a taxi to take us to the Ritz-Carlton Central Park.

LHR-JFK Sector Verdict
Despite a bit of a wait at check-in and the fuss over breakfast in the Concorde Room, BA’s First product left me very impressed. I always think that the true mark of a good flight is if you arrive at your destination feeling as fresh as when you boarded the plane, which in this case I did. As I have never travelled international first class before, I can’t compare their product to other airlines’, but I guess it’s up there with the best of them. Perhaps only a few of the Asian carriers such as Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific can rival BA First – one day, I hope to find out. This sector in BA First gets a 9/10 from me.

You’ve made it to the end (of Part 1, at least). Part 2 will follow shortly. Please feel free to leave comments and questions below...

Last edited by Genius1; Jul 23, 08 at 3:00 am
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Old Jul 22, 08, 1:26 pm
  #2  
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Excellent Trip report, well done Genius1! ^
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Old Jul 22, 08, 1:26 pm
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Genius 1, thanks for the excellent and detailed TR!^^^ It was a wonderful read, and makes we wish for a chance to try BA First! If you get a moment, and it's not too much trouble, would you mind posting the wine list? (I'm most interested in the selection of champers and claret). Thanks again for the TR and eagerly awaiting part II!

Best of luck at University!
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Old Jul 22, 08, 1:30 pm
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Originally Posted by clubman View Post
Excellent Trip report, well done Genius1! ^
^ I concur. Great job.
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Old Jul 22, 08, 1:31 pm
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Excellent trip report and photos Genius1. Many thanks for posting. ^^

It's funny, as I travel in First two or three times every month and nearly always sit in 1A, and even though I knew all of the above off by heart (even the menu) I still found it really enjoyable to read what someone else made of First for the very 'first' time.

PS: I really enjoyed the film Flawless as well ^

Last edited by BA1A; Jul 22, 08 at 1:37 pm
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Old Jul 22, 08, 1:38 pm
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Superb! Nothing more to say really
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Old Jul 22, 08, 1:42 pm
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Thanks for taking the time & effort to post this report. I will taking my 1st First at the end of November (LHR to ORD) and like yourself have opted for seat 2K (following advise from others on FT). I have found your report to be most helpful in what to expect and really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience.

Jamie
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Old Jul 22, 08, 1:50 pm
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Thanks for all the comments. Such a positive response really makes writing trip reports worthwhile (they don't take 5 minutes to write!).

Originally Posted by BA1A View Post
It's funny, as I travel in First two or three times every month and nearly always sit in 1A, and even though I knew all of the above off by heart (even the menu) I still found it really enjoyable to read what someone else made of First for the very 'first' time.
My aim in writing trip reports is to try and give a complete overview of the flight experience for everyone - from complete novices who have no idea about BA to experts like yourself and the majority of the people over on the BA board. It's great to hear that even people who know BA like the back of their hand still find reading such a detailed trip report enjoyable.
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Old Jul 22, 08, 2:02 pm
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Very enjoyable !!

Looking forward to the chapters that follow !! ^
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Old Jul 22, 08, 2:07 pm
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Originally Posted by NE flier View Post
If you get a moment, and it's not too much trouble, would you mind posting the wine list?
Hope this helps;

Wines

Champagne
Bollinger La Grande Annee 1999

White
Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2005, Vincent Girardin
Chateau Haut-Bergey Blanc 2004, Pessac-Leognan
Clos du Bois Reserve Chardonnay 2005, Russian River Valley

Red
Chateau Leoville Poyferre 1996, Grand Crus Classe, Saint Julien
Barbaresco Cascina Bordino 2004, Tenuta Carretta
Baileyana Syrah 2005, Grand Firepeak Cuvee, Edna Valley

Dessert
Opitz Goldackerl Trockenbeerenauslese 2002, Neusiedlersee Osterreich
Warre's 1988 Colheita Port

There was also a range of spirits, digestifs and liqueurs available, along with soft drinks. I missed off a few accents above letters because I don't have the keyboard codes to hand.
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Old Jul 22, 08, 2:20 pm
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Thanks for the trip report. Very enjoyable. ^
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Old Jul 22, 08, 3:03 pm
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Originally Posted by Genius1 View Post
The British Airways Premium Experience (Part 1)
I always think that the true mark of a good flight is if you arrive at your destination feeling as fresh as when you boarded the plane...
Depends on how much champagne you've managed to consume too though
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Old Jul 22, 08, 3:07 pm
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A First Class trip report Thanks for writing in such detail and taking so many photos. We fly to SFO in three weeks time, our first flight in First, so it's helpful to see what to expect.
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Old Jul 22, 08, 6:51 pm
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Thanks for posting the wine list!^ Bollinger La Grande Annee '99 is a champaign I enjoy; I hope you did as well!
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Old Jul 22, 08, 8:28 pm
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More! ^
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