British Airways B747-400 First class04/10/2012
Check-in Due to inauspicious connection times, I arrived at JFK International Airport several hours before my flight time to London. The plan was to spend the afternoon in one of the three British Airways lounges to catch up on work. Happily the BA ticket counters were unoccupied, and the very first agent, affable and adept, soon had me on my way through security and up the escalator to the BA lounges on the mezzanine level.
There are three British Airways lounges – the exclusive Concorde Room, the First Lounge and the Galleries Club Lounge, which is dedicated to business class. Fortunately for me, I had the chance to check out all three. The First Lounge has an intimate, low-key feel. By contrast, Galleries Club Lounge is larger and brighter with a separate room full of computer work stations, a selection of self-serve food and drink and an area for pre-flight dining.
When the rest of the party arrived, we moved to the Concorde Room. During the heyday of the supersonic jetliner, this lounge was exclusively the domain of Concorde passengers. Alas, the plane flies no more, but BA has kept the lounge for first class travelers as an homage to its pioneering role in faster-than-sound trans-Atlantic travel. This space, too, features a bar, a buffet and pre-flight dining.
Boarding Inside the First Class cabin, everything’s been carefully designed to evoke classic luxury travel – it reminded me of some opulent railroad coach or premium ocean liner. Much of this effect was achieved by the warm lighting and the elongated window openings with pleated electronic blinds. (Of course, once the shade is raised, it reveals the trick; it covers two regulation sized and shaped airplane windows. But for the visual impression of space and style, BA designers get high marks in my book.) The 14 seats are arranged in a herringbone pattern, all forward facing, which affords a combination of accessibility and privacy. The seat has ample storage for personal items and a wardrobe for hanging my suit jacket.
DEPARTURE As I settled into the firm but comfortable seat, a smiling flight attendant smoothly served my pre-takeoff drink order – the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Champagne.
After much market research, British Airways has determined that what travelers on the overnights to London crave most is – sleep, according to Simon Talling-Smith, executive vice president for the Americas. So everything is designed around that need, from pre-flight dining to limited announcements in flight to a breakfast buffet at Heathrow’s Arrivals Lounge.
All that notwithstanding, I was determined to enjoy all the amenities of this trip, so I swung out the excellent personal 15-inch screen, picked a movie from a vast selection, and ordered up dinner. From the menu, I chose the petite rack of veal complemented by a 2005 Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Reserva. Having ‘pre-dined’ back at JFK, I decided to forego dessert and give the fully-flat bed a try.
The flight attendant came by and transformed the seat into a commodious six-foot, six-inch flat bed, complete with cozy duvet and soft pillow. I experimented a little with tossing and turning, just to see whether the space felt at all cramped – it didn’t. So before long, I was sound asleep.
ARRIVAL As we approached Heathrow, I awoke to the change in lighting and the activity in the cabin. Breakfast was tempting, but I elected to start my day with a simple cup of tea. We actually touched down about 10 minutes early, and with no checked baggage, I was soon through passport control and on my way to BA’s spacious T5 Arrivals Lounge with its breakfast buffet and 94 personal shower rooms.
PRICE Internet rates for a round-trip First flight from New York JFK to London Heathrow in May started at $5,714, including taxes and surcharges.
VERDICT If BA’s goal is to distinguish its First Class from both its competitors and its own fully lie-flat business product, there’s no doubt that they’ve succeeded in spectacular fashion. For the first time ever, I actually wished a flight from New York to London could have taken a little longer. Luxury really does make a difference.
PLANE TYPE 747-400
SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-2-1
SEAT PITCH 78 inch/198.1cm
SEAT WIDTH 21 inch/53.3cm
SEAT RECLINE Fully lie-flat seating