My partner and I had a huge surplus of Avios and a Companion Voucher so decided to book ourselves into First Class for our trip to see friends in New Orleans, flying into Houston and then returning from New York. It was my first time in First Class so I was pretty excited, but at the same time I had tried Club World in the A380 from LHR-HKG-LHR so I guess my expectations were quite high. Would it be worth the extra money/Avios? I had read a lot of reviews about British Airways first class and I must admit they were all pretty mediocre, not least because BA crams 14 seats into the nose of the 747-400.
We decided to treat ourselves to a night at the Sofitel at Heathrow Terminal 5, which was great (as usual) and with our Platinum Accor cards we could enjoy complimentary access to the Business Lounge… Free booze and nibbles! It was a very short walk to the terminal the next morning so we deliberately got there 4 hours early in order to enjoy the famous Concorde Room before our flight.
At Terminal 5, right at the south end of the building, there is a dedicated and concealed First Class check-in area. Here there are sofas, plants and it is all quite airy and sophisticated. The lady who checked us in was actually celebrating her birthday so I think in the end we made more fuss of her than she did of us, but that was ok; British Airways staff aren’t exactly known for their warmth!
After zooming through Fast Track security, we proceeded to the Concorde Room. Unlike the other lounges in the “South Lounges” complex, which require walking down through the maze of shops and other passengers before ascending again, the Concorde Room is accessible by a small door right next to South Security. Although quite inconspicuous, I understand that BA had to pay the then BAA a small fortune to install the door during the construction of T5.
My first impression of the Concorde Room was that it was much smaller than I was expecting… I’m not sure why but I had it in my mind that it would be large! It was very nice, however, with a champagne and cocktail bar on the left-hand side and the Concorde Room Dining area on the right. Through the doors was a large terrace with comfortable seating and great spotting opportunities!
Prior to our trip, we contacted the dedicated concierge who looks after many requests that First Class passengers may have, including booking spa treatments and the cabanas. We booked in for a facial and also had a cabana reserved for us during our stay in the lounge. The cabanas contain a small day-bed, a desk, a television and a bathroom with shower and toilet. In the end we actually didn't spend much time there but it was nice to have somewhere to keep our stuff and freshen up before our long flight. The only pain was that we were not given a key to lock our cabana so we had to ask the concierge to open and shut it for us… a bit of an inconvenience but #FirstWorldProblems.
On arrival at the lounge the first thing we did was to have breakfast… We both went for the Eggs benedict which for airport food was divine. This was accompanied by vintage Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, something that is also served on board. I also had a Diet Coke… Don’t judge me!
After breakfast we went and sat on the terrace for a couple of hours, enjoying the waitress service, champagne and champagne cocktails. We also decided to have a snack before getting on the plane as we didn’t want to be too full for the lavish meal we had heard they serve.
My partner had the burger (not really a “snack” but he was in a greedy mood) and I had an appetiser of smoked duck. I didn’t get a picture of the lunch menu unfortunately but it was nice.
Our spa appointments were not at the same time unfortunately so whilst waiting I went and sat at the bar and had another glass of champagne. I also spoke to one of the barmen, which proved to be difficult because he was so indifferent. One thing to note is that the catering staff in the BA lounges are all contracted in and have not received amazing customer service training… They weren’t rude but were quite vacant and did not seem to take much pride in their jobs.
However, all in all the lounge was an enjoyable experience. The Concorde Room is definitely much nicer than any of the other lounges at LHR T5.
Before we knew it was time to rush to the gate for our flight. Unfortunately we left the lounge later than we had hoped and discovered that our flight was departing from a remote stand, meaning that all the passengers were to be bussed out to the aircraft. As we were running a little late, we missed the dedicated First Class bus and had to wait some time for one of the many buses taking Economy Class passengers to the plane. This process was painful… Queuing to get on the bus and queuing again to get on the aircraft. When we finally got to the aircraft door, the Cabin Service Director told me “I’m afraid I won’t be able to take you to your seat as we are very busy”. I understood that usually a member of crew shows First Class passengers to their seats. I’m not so arrogant that I need to be lead like a lost child to my seat but I didn’t think he was being particularly polite. Really, it would have been better if he had said nothing at all!
I had seen many pictures of the First Class cabin so kind of knew what to expect and despite being quite cramped, it was much better in the flesh. The seats are very nicely designed and mood lighting really helped create a calm and quiet atmosphere in the cabin. Once settled we were served a pre-departure drink of Champagne and offered a pair of cotton pyjamas and an amenity kit. Before we knew it, it was time for push-back.
Unfortunately our taxi out to Runway 27R was quite long and as the staff had taken away our champagne for take-off, we were left twiddling our thumbs for a while… but when we did finally rattle down the runway and into the air, the party could begin again! Soon after the seatbelt sign had been switched off, we were served with our choice of aperitif (I had more champagne) and a bowl of warm nuts (not a euphemism). We were then asked for our choice of starter and main course for lunch. I chose the terrine followed by the Angus Beef. We were also served with an amuse bouche of smoked salmon which was just divine! The terrine wasn’t the best I have tasted, nor was the beef but both were perfectly acceptable. For desert I had the chocolate and orange dome, which was quite frankly dangerous… delicious but not for the faint hearted!
During lunch, I decided to break with my new-found addiction to expensive champagne, and instead went with a nice light red-wine. It was yummy! After lunch we were served coffee (which was absolutely disgusting) and some chocolates.
After all the excitement that was lunch I decided to settle down with another glass of champagne (to wash down the vile coffee concoction) and watched a bit of TV and a film on the HUGE screen. As it was a 747 and not one of the newer aircraft, the choices weren't huge nor was the quality of the screen but it was fine nevertheless! My overindulgence also made my very tired so I kindly asked the on-duty cabin crew member to make my bed. Being part Norwegian, I was happy to discover that she was Swedish so we yabbered on in Scandiwegian before I went and changed into my stylish pyjamas and returned to find my bed made with plush duvet and mattress cover. It was very cosy and I managed to sleep for a couple of hours before waking up and watching another film. I found the best position was to get another pillow and raise the seat slightly and then watch the screen just like I was lying in bed at home.
Before we knew it, it was time for afternoon tea. This is standard on BA and at first I was a bit sceptical because although I am British, I find afternoon tea to be a bit of a dull tradition reserved for old ladies and royalty. However, I was willing to make an exception so through myself into the experience! We were served a nice pot of tea with very dainty finger sandwiches, which were followed by a selection of spectacularly constructed mini-cakes. I was thoroughly impressed!
Not long after afternoon tea was served, it was time to land. It was dark and we were sitting in the middle seats so couldn’t see out. As I had gathered from the crew, there wasn’t much to look out at in Houston so I wasn’t missing anything… Cynical but I was later to discover that it isn't the most exciting city on earth.
Disembarkation went much better than boarding and they even held other passengers back to let us off first.
It’s a funny contrast though… Stepping out of the luxury First Class cabin of a British Airways 747 into the hellhole that was Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport. My first impression was that Terminal D was in desperate need of renovation and the walk to passport control was endless and tedious.
In typical U.S. style passport control was an absolute nightmare. We were not the only flight to arrive at that time so had to wait an age. However, when we finally got through we quickly collected our luggage and were on our way into the City.
On balance, the British Airways First Class product is much better than their Club World offering, although that isn't saying much. Compared to its competitors I would say that BA First is comparable to Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines Business Class. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good experience (we did!) but I was a little underwhelmed, even with my low expectations. The Cabin Crew were on the whole nice but a little indifferent and “stern” in their demeanour. The seat was comfortable and definitely better than the one in CW but it still wasn’t as nice as the new CX business class, which I have experienced. The food was also good but nothing in comparison to Cathay.
On the whole I would give them a 6 out of 10: Not bad, but not amazing.
British Airways Terminal 5A Concorde Room
London - LHR
Houston - IAH
My first experience in British Airways First flying from London Heathrow to Houston Intercontinental on a Boeing 747-400. Although not quite what I was expecting it was still a great flight and it will be a long time before I forget it.
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