Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways B747-400 First

16/11/2012

First impressions: I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 1245 for my 1430 departure on BA49 for Seattle. I had already checked in the day before and selected seat 14A in Club World, but on arriving found I had been upgraded to First. I dropped off two bags and then went through fast track security, then immediately turned right to enter the Concorde Lounge.

The Lounge: The Concorde Lounge is one of best lounges in the world and one where I have happily (and by choice) spent many hours. On this occasion because it was a late upgrade, I only had an hour in there and so made do with a couple of “light bites” from the extensive menu available. There is also a full restaurant in the lounge where on previous visits I have had some lovely meals. On this occasion it was a tomato juice brought to where I was sitting and then a wonton vegetarian broth (very spicy, very nice) and a simple garden salad.

The flight was departing from Satellite B, so I left plenty of time to do some shopping and then take the shuttle over there. When I arrived the flight was just opening for boarding with business and first class passengers given priority, and so with only a few seconds wait I was through the gate area and on board.

It was a crystal clear but cold day outside (Remembrance Sunday) and the cabin was very cold, so I kept my jacket with me. This was the new First, so I had an integral wardrobe allowing me to hang my clothes and keep them in reach, though a lady behind me asked for her coat to be hung since it was too long for the locker and this was done with no fuss.

I was in seat 3K, a window seat half way down the cabin and probably the seat I would have chosen if asked. I was given a choice of sleep suit sizes (medium or large) and the Anya Hindmarch amenity bag, and already on the seat were slippers and headphones for the IFE system.

Seats: this was the “new” First which I’d previously believed would be retrofitted to the whole of BA’s long haul fleet, but have since learned will be fitted only to the majority of the B747s (and all the B777s with First) because some of the B747s are to be retired in the next couple of years and so it is not considered a good use of resources upgrading these aircraft – for that reason, you may continue to encounter old First for some time to come.

There are 14 First seats on this aircraft, with individual window seats and two pairs of seats together, though well separated by an optional blind. The cabin was fairly full for this flight with only a couple of seats free, and at one point it looked as though a passenger might have to move because of a problem with his IFE but this was sorted out when it was reset after take-off. 

The seats recline fully flat, have plenty of storage space including a wardrobe with space for shows and rooms on a side table for papers when working, as well as a power point for work. To see previous reviews of the new First, click here or herePlease see those reviews for a detailed run through as to the seat characteristics.

Best seat to choose:  The seating is in five rows, for a seatplan click here.

It’s hard to choose a “best” seat in First because there isn’t a poor seat, but for quiet I would avoid the back row which is by the galley, and though some people love 1A and 1K I’ve never really enjoyed sitting right at the front, though I’m not sure why – it used to be because of the wardrobe there, now I think it’s just a feng shui thing of being in the nose of the aircraft. I’d choose the centre seat  if travelling with a companion – I’ve no preference between row 4 or 5 on that one, or a window seat if alone.

We set off on time, but were warned we might be a little delayed. I missed the reason why but it might have been a headwind. The meal choices were as follows:

Starters: Timbale of smoked Yorkshire rainbow trout and smoked salmon with a watercress, fennel, orange and radish salad; twice-baked Parmesan and Gruyere soufflé; roasted pumpkin, nutmeg and walnut soup; fresh seasonal salad with your choice of French dressing with golden rapeseed oil or creamy beetroot dressing.

Main courses: Herefordshire fillet of beef with truffle and Madeira sauce, British wild mushrooms and roasted baby root vegetables; Plaice in a fragrant spicy sauce, turmeric rice and braised aubergine with garlic and ginger; roasted breast of Gressingham duck, citrus and star anise sauce, sweet potato and ginger puree with caramelised fennel; roasted corn-fed breast of chicken with a potato, red pepper, olive, sun-dried tomato and fine bean salad.

The Bistro selection on this flight was wild mushroom risotto infused with soft herbs or the BA Classic of Grilled minute steak sandwich with horseradish relish on Manoucher bread served with vegetable crisps. There was also a selection of biscuits or cheese and fruit.

Dessert: caramel shortbread with pistachio wafer, brioche and butter pudding with custard or ice cream sundae, custom made with sauces and toppings. The chees selection was Coastal cheddar, Fourme D’Ambert, Cornish Brie and Isle of Avalon.

I noticed a lot of the cabin chose the soup, possibly because of the season or because we were still warming up from the cabin temperature when we had first got on board (though there were no problems with this, and within 30 minutes it was warm enough to remove jumpers).

The wine list as you would expect with flights to the West Coast of Americas features wines appropriate for the route.

  • Champagne: Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Champagne
  • Whites: Saint-Aubin 1er Cru La Chateniere 2010, Burgundy, France; Laurenz V. Charming Gruner Veltliner 2009, Kamptal, Austria; St Supery Dollarhide Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, California, USA
  • Reds: Chateau De Fieuzal 2006, Grand Cru Classe Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France, Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, California, USA; Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Syrah 2007; Santa Barbara County, California, USA.  The dessert wine: Chateau De Myrat 2002, 2eme Grand Cru Classe Sauternes, Barsac, Bordeaux, France
  • Port: Warre’s 1992 Colheita Tawny Port

What makes First special is the service and the crew did a lot right on this flight. Firstly there was the general attitude. They looked like they were enjoying themselves, often smiling and laughing, and were also prepared to let the rest of us in on the joke, which seemed to be that we were all going to Seattle, it would be a fun flight, and we probably would have a good time when we got there. When you’re flying out on a Sunday having said goodbye to your family, this is the right approach, and one I’d recommend for Sunday departures from now on.

The CSD introduced herself to everyone before the flight or in my case immediately after take off (I’d had my eyes shut when he’d first come round – not asleep – it just helps me think) – and the staff managed to be friendly while taking food orders, delivering cups of tea - I was offered extra biscuits with mine – or asking if there was anything else we needed.

Before landing we had Afternoon Tea (Inspired by the Dorchester) and a selection of sandwiches including smoked salmon, salted beef with horseradish and watercress, hummus with carrot and coriander and egg mayonnaise with mustard cress.

  • Patisserie: Plain or fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves; banana chocolate, blackcurrant cremeux with pistachio jelly and lime and basil macaroon.

Arrival: we arrived slightly late – about 15 minutes, I think, but were quickly off the flight and through immigration. Our bags were waiting on the carousel by the time we got there.

Verdict: this was a good one – new seats on board, everything working, no IFE problems, friendly crew and no problems on the ground at either end. 

Contact: ba.com

Tom Otley