British Airways First Class. Why do they bother any more?

Today’s post is the epitome of a #firstworldproblems moan.  I’m going to spend the rest of the article explaining about how travelling first class with British Airways was anything but.  Yes, I got from A to B safely.  Yes, there was food and drink and a big seat that turned to a bed.  However, the crew were utterly oblivious, all the way up to the Cabin Service Manager.  So, by all means read on if you want to hear me moan and kvetch, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

I was travelling with a friend who had never been in first class and so was quite excited, and also a little apprehensive to see what he thought.  I purposely didn’t take many photos as I’ve previously reviewed BA first.

Vancouver is one of the flights that leaves from Heathrow Terminal 3, and thus we had time to do a little bit of lounge hopping.  I’d previously reviewed the Cathay Pacific and new Qantas Lounges – both were as excellent as ever.  For the first time we even visited the American Airlines International Flagship Lounge too.  It was actually quite a nice space with friendly pro-active staff and would certainly recommend a visit to go check it out.

The monitors in the terminal showed gate 32 and our boarding passes a boarding time of 16.30 for a 17.30 flight.  At about 16.45 we rocked up to see boarding hadn’t yet started.  There was also no evidence of the new group boarding procedures, so started the tensa barrier queue where premium boarding was signed.  Within moments, they started boarding and so were pretty much the first down the jet-bridge.  My partner was first on, met by the CSM and shown to 1A (with me following close behind).

I noticed that the wardrobe was already full (of crew bags I’m assuming) – this was the first hint that the crew were here not for our sake.  A minor inconvenience, so we stowed our bags above row two – the next available lockers.  This of course had the domino effect of row two needing to store their stuff further back etc.

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We were both (eventually) offered a pre-departure drink – we both opted a glass of the rather lovely Laurent Perrier Grande Siècle that British Airways serve.  Except that’s what it was, a glass.  Once we’d finished, I had to wander back to the galley to request a top-up as there wasn’t anyone in the cabin to ask.

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Take off came and went, and with that were asked for our food choices.

We ordered some starters, soup, salad and then main courses, with a gin and tonic to kick us off.  We were also asked if we wanted to “buddy dine” as we were chatting together in 1A.  The G&Ts arrived and the table was set for two.

The amuse bouche came first, which was some quite nice salami, manchego and prosciutto, although the same as my previous trip from San Francisco back to London.  It was cleared away and our soup arrived (with no under-plates).  We of course started to eat it but were somewhat perplexed what had happened to our starters which were meant to come first.

When the cabin crew returned to clear away the soup, I enquired what had happened to the starters.  “Oh, sorry, I forgot.”

It was a while before the main courses came out.  During the entire meal service there were no offers of top-ups of wine or water.  In fact our glasses remained empty for the entirety of the meal service.

When the main eventually did arrive, we asked to try the Bordeaux and the Shiraz; opting for the latter a second glass was brought and wine delivered to go with the lamb.  Our member of cabin crew clearly hadn’t tried (or didn’t know the difference) between them as we suggested that the Shiraz was the better choice.

By this point my travelling companion was starting to get quite tired so suggested that he get some rest whilst I had some cheese before doing so myself.  He went to the lavatory so I placed his seat flat and asked the crew if they could bring all of the bedding from the galley.  Ideally they would have spotted it without having to ask.

I returned to 1K and had some cheese, again, asking for a glass of port to accompany it.  My table wasn’t laid, and nor was I brought a napkin.

It wasn’t for over 30 minutes before the crew returned to ask if I’d like anything else, nor to clear away any of my service items.

After the meal service, I decided to wander back and find the CSM in her office to provide some feedback.

I explained how I felt, that nothing about the service was proactive and that the crew didn’t appear to know much about how to deliver the product. She stood and listened politely, apologising and offered Avios as service recovery.

I asked her what her own experiences of First was like and if she understood the point I was making.  That’s when the penny dropped – she’d only flown First class herself once as a passenger.  She didn’t know what the experience should be like.

Here we have a major global airline, with a cabin manager, in charge of a Boeing 747 with almost 350 passengers on board, who didn’t understand the product her team were trying to deliver.

I returned to my seat and I napped for a few hours.  I awoke and wandered back to the galley to ask if I could have some more water.  There were no bottles in the first galley, so the crew went to the Club galley to get some.  About 30 minutes later, I returned to the galley to get some more water, as both my mine and my companion had run out.

The CSMs feedback to her team about pro-active service had been totally missed with something as basic as water being topped up.  I skipped the second meal service and with that we were on the ground in Vancouver.

My return flight eight days later was better, but still wasn’t great.  The crew were pretty on the ball, pre-departure top ups were pro-actively offered and they seemed a lot more attentive.  I explained that I wasn’t going to eat dinner and would head straight to sleep.  After take-off when the seat-belt sign went off, I headed to the lavatory to change into pyjamas.  My bed was automatically made by the time I had got back – that again was a huge step change from the outbound journey.

The seat itself wasn’t in great condition as you can see from the photos below.  It was scuffed, worn and dirty.

However that said, I slept pretty well.  The crew again were pretty good in that they replaced my water bottle as I drank through the night.

Waking up in time for breakfast and I opted for the fruit and then omelette.

It was one of the better breakfasts that I’ve had on British Airways, however the toast was completely inedible.

The Cabin Service Manager didn’t come around the first class cabin to welcome people until 20 minutes to landing as there apparently were a number of issues with the rather ancient in-flight entertainment system which took his attention during departure.  That’s not unreasonable, especially when people want to get some sleep on an overnight flight.

We did land around fifteen minutes late at Terminal 3, but then had a fifty minute wait for bags with my “first class priority” tagged skis delivered second to last.  Ho hum.

Conclusion

If you’re flying British Airways in first, you’ll get a flat bed seat.  That’s it.  You’ll have no guarantee that the food you’ll get will be edible, that it will be served in a timely manner, that the service will meet your needs.

For me, the outbound flight was the epitome of everything that is wrong with British Airways at the moment.  A 22 year old aircraft with crew that were the same age; well meaning, but utterly clueless and completely ill-equipped.

Coming back, the crew were an order of magnitude better, but the state of the cabin let things down.

British Airways first class can be amazing.  I’ve had some incredible flights with some incredible crew that know what you want before you want it.  I’d previously resolved to fly less BA – you know what, I feel completely vindicated by that.

10 comments

  1. I would never pay for a BA ‘premium’ seat, although god knows how they call Club World a premium product. I have the legacy of a large number of avios which I use for First redemptions but when they are exhausted I will book with an airline that doesn’t see a customer and think ‘how can I gouge them for a few more quid?’.

  2. Good article / review. I suspect, but am happy to be told I’m wrong, that the First crew you had were what’s called “mixed fleet” which serves on the 747s to/from Philadelphia and some other cities. These crews are usually junior and frankly clueless as to how to serve a First cabin. I had an open jaw in First recently. LHR to EWR. Superb experienced old contract long served crew who delivered the service with friendly professionalism and panache. The cabin in 777 feels more roomy and that old problem of no room in the tiny nose closet doesn’t exist.
    The return in First from Philadelphia was an early evening flight with a CSD who introduced herself as a “baby faced CSD” with the entire First crew being female and under 30. Useless. Passengers were getting up and making their own beds up as the crew started plating up meals soon after take off. I had eaten in the lounge but ended up telling THREE people TWICE I didn’t want dinner, that I did want to get to sleep ASAP and would like breakfast. Despite imparting this information several times to several people I had to start making my own bed up (no hardship but worthy of nite considering I was told three times “I’ll be right back”) and they didn’t wake me for breakfast. For initial 90 minutes crew chatted really loudly and stood gossiping loudly with passengers near me when serving, oblivious to thisebif us trying to sleep! I happened to be going to the restroom and asked how long left in flight and was told 1 hour – yet the entire First cabin was still dark and no breakfasts served. I asked for breakfast and was hurriedly served. One of this mixed fleet crew told me she’d survived her first year as First crew and that was seen as a point of no return but she still felt nervous and hesitant! Wow! “Baby faced CSD” was equally useless and invisible. WORST BA flight ever. I’ll fly Club in future and save some of my hard earned cash.

    1. Yes, it was indeed Mixed Fleet. I’m flying to Houston next month, but going via Dallas so that I get Worldwide crew who know what they’re doing!

  3. Just learned about this site via HFP and was interested to read this article about BA First. Having just returned from Dubai, I’m currently ‘in negotiation’ with them over various issues!

    My brother and I both had partner vouchers and wanted to treat an other brother and his wife to their first ‘First’ experience. Getting 4 seats in First to a destination with reasonable weather in January effectively limited us to Dubai. Bookings made in September – early January BA cancelled both booked flights ‘for operational reasons’, and on the outbound downgraded us all to Club World. I was fortunate to get a helpful agent on the ‘phone and was able to get us all transferred to an earlier flight in First – but this meant three additional room nights as we either had the choice of arriving close to midnight or leaving a day earlier on the evening flight. All rooms were prepaid as we had definite travel dates and figured there was no need to opt for a less restricted rate ….. ha!

    The inbound wasn’t as bad – a few hours earlier and no downgrade.

    The new First check-in area is great – straight through dedicated security and into the lounge. Food in the Concorde lounge hasn’t improved. Impossible to get spa bookings – fully booked even 28 days in advance and no availability on the day (I’m guessing they’ve reduced the number of therapists as I’ve never had problems before, even on the day).

    Cabin crew were pretty good on both flights – the food is another story! On the outbound I opted for French Onion soup, purely because I didn’t fancy Meze or Salad – it was disgusting … I think they got carried away with Umami as it was completely over-seasoned and actually really glutinous! Other memorable items were a bread roll that could have been used as an offensive weapon, ravioli completely dried out around the edges, with a dry filling and a sauce that struggled to compensate the dryness of the ravioli.

    BA generously offered 5,000 Avios each for the poor food but proposed that we recoup the accommodation costs via travel insurance which, needless to say, is a non-starter. I’m currently awaiting a response to my proposal that they look at an appropriate amount of Avios per person as compensation for the additional hotel costs (and we all know Dubai ain’t cheap!).

    Sadly BA’s First is, as covered elsewhere, only marginally better than Business with the likes of Qatar (not yet had the chance to try the new Q Suite!)

  4. Ah the French Onion Soup! I had it on a flight to Johannesburg in December. The saltiest things I’ve had in my mouth since my snorkel malfunctioned mid swim.

  5. I just published today about a BA flight I took in First in Nov 2017. Based on having flown BA business class product multiple times, my expectations were low. However, the first class service, crew, and food were amazing. The plane (777-200) comfortable, clean, and appeared new. And therein lies the problem for BA – until they figure out consistency of product they will never be top tier. My review is here if you are interested: https://paulseestheworld.com/2018/02/18/british-airways-first-class-review-they-exceeded-expectations/

  6. I always fly British Airways, either Business Class or First Class. I have never had a bad experience. Of course it helps that I’m not particularly pretentious. It’s seem to me to be pretty naïve to expect an airline to produce a perfect dining experience in the air. I’m sure that some come closer than others. However, as long as it tastes good and stays down who bloody cares?

    1. I think expecting drinks and water to be topped up isn’t unreasonable in a premium cabin, nor is having a clean seat. Unfortunately BA can’t even seem to do that any more.

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