A Proper British Jolly: British Airways’ 777 in First Class From London to Abu Dhabi
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Great ground experience, amazing food and a friendly, relaxed crew.
High taxes and fees on award tickets and no spa treatments available in the lounge.
In anticipation of the official launch of TPG UK, the team here in London decided to the launch the site with a splash: Send four people on the same British Airways flight to review all four classes of service.
How’d we decide? Drawing straws, of course.
I was lucky enough to have pulled the most luxurious straw, meaning I was the one flying first class. Since I took this flight, I also had a chance to try out BA’s new soft product in first class on board the A380, but this review reflects the state of things before the airline put those enhancements into place.
Booking a British Airways flight like this is relatively easy to do with miles. You can book through BA’s own Executive Club, where a seat will run you 68,000 Avios about £374 in taxes and fees. The UK Air Passenger Duty fees are applicable for all mid- and long-haul premium redemptions from the UK. You could also book with the same amount of Iberia Avios plus the same amount in taxes and fees. Another option would be to use American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, where a ticket will cost you 62,500 miles and £365 in fees. Since we value AA miles slightly more than BA or Iberia Avios, it’s preferable to use Avios even though you’ll be using a slightly higher amount.
The high taxes and fees tacked on to flights originating in London are never fun, but considering tickets on this route routinely sell for about £2,300 round-trip (the price just about doubles if you’re booking for travel within two weeks), the £350 or so in taxes doesn’t seem so bad. You can save on these taxes by starting your trip at a different European airport and connecting through London Heathrow (LHR), but for time’s sake, it was worth it to pay the fees. If you do book with BA Avios, you should pay the taxes and fees with the British Airways Premium Plus Card from American Express UK which earns 3 points per £ spent directly with British Airways. So, in this case, you would earn a total of 1,092 Avios.
It was a quiet and serene day at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5. I made my way to the First Wing and the check-in and security area for first-class passengers and Oneworld Emerald card holders.
I was led straight to a check-in desk, where the friendly check-in agent checked my passport and printed a boarding pass. She confirmed the flight was on time and would be departing the C gates (handy information, as it required a train shuttle from the main part of the terminal).
The separate security area was also extremely quiet with no queue whatsoever. I glided from the front door to the lounge within minutes. I passed through the Galleries First lounge (the First Wing leads directly into this lounge), exited immediately and headed to the Concorde Room, reserved for first-class passengers and Concorde Room card holders only (earned by hitting 5,000 tier points in a year). Our very own UK general manager, Christian Kramer, happens to have this card.
On the way over, I stopped by the Elemis spa, which offers free treatments for business- and first-class passengers on long-haul flights, but the first available appointment on the day I was traveling was in the afternoon. I had actually tried to book a treatment in advance in the dedicated first-class passenger line, but had no luck. There was one appointment available at the B gates, but I didn’t have time to go there before my flight.
I did, however, manage to get into a cabana. These small rooms have a day bed, bathroom with a shower, television, and call button to order food and drinks from the menus inside the room.
They’re not the most swanky rooms, but they provide a relaxing place to chill and have a nap on a longer layover. These can also be booked in advance on the You First phone line.
The Concorde Room was relatively busy for a midmorning, but I was able to find a chaise on the balcony.
Settling down for fantastic views of the runway, I ordered a full English breakfast and avocado and poached eggs on toast — more out of curiosity than gluttony!
I chose to wash breakfast down with a hearty glass of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Champagne.
After eating and some furious planespotting (the views from the balcony of the Heathrow apron and both runways were truly wonderful), I went to the dining area of the lounge and ordered a couple of lunch dishes.
I ordered pretty much the entire menu: soup of the day, goat-cheese-and-fig tart, smoked duck breast, beef bourguignon, seared sea bass, artichoke gnocchi and Nicoise salad. Most of these were lovely, especially the tart and the Nicoise salad, though the beef was an outlier, tough and chewy.
I took the shuttle train to the C gates and arrived at the gate 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
To my shock, the flight was closing, and I was the last one to board. The ground staff said the load was so light that they boarded incredibly quickly.
I set off down the jet bridge and noticed that there were lanes to both doors 1L and 2L, but a notice said passengers could no longer board via 1L. It was no issue, as there were no other passengers ahead of me, and I arrived at the aircraft door without any delay.
Cabin and Seat
I received a warm welcome from the crew and was shown to my seat. The crew asked if they could take my coat and helped stow everything away in my personal wardrobe.
The cabin looked clean and fresh. BA first class is by no means the newest product in the skies — and this aircraft was 21 years old — but it was in excellent condition The navy-and-beige cabin was smart and felt exclusive, even through BA packed 14 seats into the cabin in a 1-2-1 configuration across four rows. It was not the most spacious of the BA first-class products, though, and I look forward to comparing this on my upcoming A380 flight.
Overall, I did like the feel — the Brit in me felt very much at home here.
I was seated in 1A. The seat felt large and comfortable, with navy, leather armrests and a wide area for the feet (an advantage of this seat, as it extended all the way to the fuselage of the plane).
A small lamp provided a feeling of calm and exclusivity.
A handy storage wardrobe was a little narrow, but it did fit my bag and a jacket, allowing easy access.
A universal socket was underneath the seat.
There was plenty of room for a lad of 5 feet, 8 inches.
The table, once extended, was large and stable. It was big enough for two to eat from, allowing someone to sit on the footrest, which doubled as a buddy seat. It was also a great station for working, and I managed a good two hours bashing away at my keyboard.
Midway through the flight, the crew made up the bed for me. This included a thin mattress with a duvet. The mattress was insignificant, but the underlying seat was comfortable enough. The duvet and pillow were both cozy. I lay down for a nap, but I also knew from previous experience that the seat would have been good for a proper night’s sleep.
The two toilets at the front of the aircraft dedicated to first-class passengers were small and basic, with Aromatherapy Associates hand wash and hand cream. The flower, in a small vase on the mirror, was the only real touch signifying that these were meant to be luxury loos.
Amenities and IFE
The amenity kit came in a sleek Liberty of London-branded pouch, with separate contents for men and women. The kit contained Refinery deodorant, lip balm, shaving gel, moisturizer, razor, hairbrush, pen, eye mask, socks and branded navy pajamas (great but maybe a little over the top for a relatively short day flight).
A stylish silver cushion and rather cheap-looking blanket, still wrapped in plastic, were provided. Noise-canceling headphones were also there.
BA’s IFE was good but not exceptional. There were plenty of on-demand movies, and all were easily selectable via the large, touch-sensitive screen. I went for the new release “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
There was a moving map, with all the key information, but no tail cams on this aircraft.
Wi-Fi was available on board with two different speed packages. I chose the fastest package for the full flight, which cost £23.99. Other options were £7.99 for one hour and £17.99 for four hours. The speed was more than fine for emails, messaging and other basic use, but I struggled with heavier usage.
Food and Beverage
Coffee, a date and predeparture drinks were served shortly after boarding. I went for a Buck’s Fizz and a sparkling water. Bottles of mineral water were also handed out.
Shortly after takeoff, further drinks were served. This time round, it was a Kir Royale Champagne cocktail for me. Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle was the Champagne on offer — the same as in the Concorde Room. Warm nuts were served alongside the bubbly.
Almost surprisingly, BA really came through on the food front on this flight. Two meals were served, and first up was lunch. The amuse-bouche was a delicious seared prawn with sumac and chile with babaganoush and a stuffed pepper.
I ordered the mezze starter, which had nice elements, including the Lebanese chicken kebab and kibbet batata, but the presentation was a little messy on this one.
The main courses stole the show. The roasted lamb, with rice, pistachios and pine nuts, doused in a pomegranate sauce, was to die for. The lamb melted in the mouth, and the rice was incredibly tasty.
The crew spoiled me with drinks and encouraged me to try a wine tasting so I could experience all three whites and three reds. The Sancerre was the victor of the whites, with the pinot noir hitting the spot in the red category.
They had run out of the chocolate dessert, which the crew said was excellent (I wish they had said it was disgusting!). The rhubarb-and-ginger timbale with a side of vanilla ice cream was an acceptable substitute but not mind-blowing.
It would’ve been rude to not try the cheeses too. For some reason, the crew only delivered the cheddar, but I was so full, both in belly and of shame, that I didn’t ask for the the other three. At first. I did ask for them later, and they were all fantastic.
I also managed to squeeze a couple of chocolates in, as well, under strict orders from the crew.
A midflight snack of a fresh fruit and peppermint tea was delivered quickly and was a great refresher.
Afternoon tea was served with an hour to go before arrival. A fresh pot of English breakfast tea was served alongside a selection of small but tasty sandwiches. The scones served with clotted cream and jam were warm, light and fluffy, as good as any you would get on the ground. The sweet treats were also nice but too sweet for my taste, and I ordered another round of the sandwiches to replace them. There were readily provided without question.
The crew was incredibly warm and friendly. The cabin-service director came by to introduce himself and was up for a good chat and a laugh. He clearly enjoyed his job and was passionate about providing great service. He had noticed that I had boarded with a friend (Jean Arnas, our UK video producer) who was sitting in economy and he proactively offered to send him back Champagne. He also asked if I wanted him to bring Jean up to join me for a drink.
I would add the caveat that the flight had a very light load, perhaps less than 30%. Had the flight had been packed to the rafters, I’m not sure the same relaxed attitude would have been possible.
The knowledge and experience of the crew really showed. The woman who served me for most of the flight had been with BA for 35 years. She was fun, bubbly, attentive and nailed every aspect of the service. I was also impressed by the crew’s openness to serve the meal at my request. BA, even in first, can often rush to throw the food out at you as soon as possible without asking when you actually want to eat. Not today: The crew was delighted to work to my schedule, and I spent an hour or so working before lunch.
All in all, this was a wonderful flight from start to finish. The ground experience was great, save for the unavailability of spa treatments, and the cabin, seat, service and food were all top-notch.
BA gets some flak now and again, but I regularly maintain that it’s on the BA crew to make or break a flight. Well, on this flight, the crew did indeed nail it, but the soft and hard products were really up to scratch too. For a six-and-a-half-hour flight to the Middle East, the redemption was a great value, and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with BA again if the pricing and timing made sense.
All images by the author for The Points Guy.