After a wonderful ten days featuring a road trip to Stonehenge, a cruise from Istanbul to Rome, and even a visit to the famed British Airways Concorde Room at London Heathrow, it was finally time to head home. We would have one final treat to experience, though – First Class on a British Airways Airbus A380 from London to Washington. Though this would be my second time in BA First (we also flew in First on our way to Europe), this would be my very first time in an A380, and I was looking forward to trying out the huge whale of an aircraft.
See also: British Airways A380 Premium Economy LAX – LHR Trip Reportby Rocky
British Airways (BA) Flight 217
- July 5, 2015
- Depart: London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5, 10:55, 10m late
- Arrive: Washington Dulles (IAD), 13:26, 19m early
- Duration: 7 hours 31 minutes
- Seats: 2E, 2F
- Equipment: Airbus A380-800
BA First customers are provided a dedicated check-in area. When you walk in to T5, First check-in is located on the far right end of the terminal.
Frankly, it’s nothing all that special. You do have a dedicated set of agents, and a loose service commitment of sorts whereby BA will summon more agents to the special counters if waiting times exceed 5 minutes, but aside from that, you’re dealing with regular check-in desks. It’s not even a fully enclosed area like American’s “Flagship Check-in” at LAX, and nowhere near as opulent as, say, the Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt. In any event, when we arrived, there was actually a little bit of a queue at the entrance, but additional agents were quickly summoned, and we were on our way quickly to await our date with the Concorde Room.
After the tranquility of the Concorde Room, we endured my least favorite part of the entire British Airways experience – the chaotic boarding scrum, even for premium passengers.
Yes, even “FastTrack” had a line so long that it doubled back around into the terminal. The problem is that BA doesn’t distinguish between First, Club World, oneworld Emerald/Ruby/Sapphire, etc. – anyone flying in any of the above categories is called to board at the same time. The result is long lines and a rather unpleasant boarding experience.
Once onboard, the seat looks remarkably similar to the one we experienced on the flight to London on the 777, though it was noticeably newer, and with a very slightly larger TV screen.
There are two important differences compared to the 777, though. First, all power outlets and USB ports are in a separate compartment at the side of the seat. I found this more convenient than the 777, which features USB ports below the TV/seat controller, and the power plug at the bottom of the suite next to the ottoman. As an added bonus, the compartment is deep enough to store a smartphone and/or camera, helping keep such fragile items out of harm’s way.
The other major difference is a small storage locker located at each seat. This really is a major improvement over many of First/Business products out there today, in that you can keep your backpack and/or computer bag with you at all times, instead of having to store them in an overhead bin and hope that the seatbelt sign is turned off promptly after take-off. As you can see, plenty of room is available for both a laptop and a backpack, and a jacket/sportcoat for good measure.
The cabin itself features 14 seats on the lower deck, and utilizes the same 1-2-1 configuration as the 777. All seats have aisle access but face forward, so you don’t encounter the sometimes awkward scenario of staring at the person diagonally across from you that afflicts rear-facing Club World seats.
If you are traveling with a companion, you’ll want to make sure to snag two middles, especially if you wish to talk in-flight. If you’re traveling by yourself, though, take one of the windows. There isn’t much privacy at all, though there is a partition in the center that can be raised if desired.
Good setup for couples. Not so much if your neighbor is a stranger.
When laid flat in bed mode, the seat is once again almost identical to the one found on the 777.
The mattress pad is comfortable, and lends itself to some solid sleeping. Once again, though, the general feeling is of a nice business class seat. The “suites” aren’t enclosed, and don’t offer a great deal of privacy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice, but if you are looking for something akin to the Etihad Apartments, you’ll find yourself disappointed.
Immediately after finding my seat, a flight attendant came by to offer a pre-departure beverage. Naturally, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a champagne selfie with the good stuff.
Shortly after reaching 10,000 feet, drinks were once again offered. I partook a Johnnie Walker Blue to go along with the mixed nuts.
Unlike on our flight to London, our flight attendant asked if we would prefer to dine in courses or have the entire meal presented at once. This being a daytime flight, I opted for the traditional, course-by-course delivery. Before the meal was served, I took the opportunity to play around with the TV system. There is an extensive selection of on-demand TV shows (both American and British), movies, and games. I didn’t count, but suffice it to say, you won’t get bored on a 7 1/2 hour flight. Video quality is excellent on the new monitors, with audio presented through an average pair of noise-cancelling headphones. After looking through the selection for a bit, I settled on – what else – a British TV show featuring cat videos.
Lunch service began shortly after the show ended. I have reproduced the entire menu below for your perusal, but in general, I would say it’s a typical British Airways premium class menu featuring “modern British” cuisine.
To start off, I ordered the poached lobster with salmon and pea puree.
I don’t care for fish, so I picked off the salmon, but the lobster was nicely done. The meat was sweet and tender, and the sweetness of the lobster was nicely offset by the pea puree (thankfully not from sweat peas, which would have resulted in an overload of sweetness). For the main course, though I was burned by the beef on the ride over to England, I decided to take my chances once again with the seared filet of Aberdeen Angus beef.
First impressions were good, as the dish was well presented. Alas, while the meat wasn’t hammered, unlike on the flight over, I wouldn’t exactly call it great, either, as the beef had a “gamey” flavor akin to a light freezer burn, as if it had been frozen and then microwaved to warm it up. I really need to stop chasing unicorns and quit ordering beef on airplanes. Nevertheless, while the sight of “horseradish and chive sauce” frightened me a little, it was actually good, tasting more like a demi-glaze, and with the normally overpowering taste of horseradish kept at bay. The summer vegetables were tender and delicious, and the cylindrical potato looked interesting, to say the least. Incidentally, I had also ordered the Bordeaux to go along with lunch, and it paired quite well with the beef. It has distinct flavors of berries and tobacco, both of which make a nice combo with red meat (ironically enough, even more so in this case given the gamey flavor of the meat).
Last but not least, time for dessert, which today would be the bourbon vanilla and chocolate cheesecake.
I didn’t really get the taste of bourbon(Reader Brian points out just how uncultured this small town boy is, and that Bourbon Vanilla is just a type of vanilla), but the chocolate was rich and flavorful. While the taste was good, the texture was off a little, more like a custard than a cheesecake. But that’s quibbling over a pretty minor point. It was good, and I enjoyed it.
Once plates were cleared, I nodded off for a few hours, waking up about 90 minutes out of IAD – just in time to take advantage of afternoon tea. (Sorry in advance for the blurry photo of the food. I didn’t realize it didn’t come out until I got home.)
The scone was terrific, light and fluffy, and the clotted cream had just the right amount of sweetness. The finger sandwiches, though, were a mixed bag. The roast beef and cheese sandwiches were pretty good. The crayfish and mayonnaise/rocket ones, though, weren’t good at all. My biggest issue with the tea was the service, or rather lack thereof. I had been pretty obviously awake for about half an hour, and the flight attendant servicing my side of the aisle had passed by several times during that time. Yet I was never offered the meal. I finally just rang the call button, and another FA brought it promptly – but said he couldn’t give me any tea because the seatbelt sign was on. Really, British Airways?
Aside from the hiccup with the afternoon tea service, the level of service on this flight was much better than on our flight to London a week and a half earlier. The FAs introduced themselves personally to each passenger and addressed each passenger by name, had a sunny, helpful disposition throughout, and just generally seemed more customer-focused. They also took care of the little things, such as asking if I would prefer express meal service or traditional course-by-course. This was definitely more in-line of what I would expect from a flight in First Class.
Transiting at Dulles
Though BA has no control over the transit process in Washington, I thought I’d spend a few minutes recounting our experience, mainly as a warning to others thinking about using our itinerary as a template. First, clearing immigration and customs involves a ride on one of Dulles’ famous mobile lounges, or “moon buggies”, across the tarmac. On the plus side, the moon buggies are kind of cool, and you can get some nice shots of aircraft as you transit the field.
Our plane from the mobile lounge
Another moon buggy headed the other direction
On the downside, having to use the moon buggy defeats the usual time advantage of being in First or Club World. There isn’t a buggy reserved for First and Club World passengers, so you get mixed in with everyone else heading to passport control. That really isn’t a big deal in the era of automated passport control. What is a big deal, though, is the slow-as-molasses process the rest of the way. Even though we arrived 20 minutes early, we ended up having to sit at the gate for another 15 because no driver was available to operate the jetbridge. You’d figure the delay would help facilitate getting baggage to the carousel, but upon clearing passport control, we find the baggage claim to be a complete mess. Bags from our flight were strewn everywhere. Three bags were sitting around in a cluster with other bags, but one more hadn’t even made it off the carousel yet, showing up about 5 minutes later. Then it took nearly half an hour to get through customs – the last straw that finally convinced me that I needed to pony up the money for Global Entry. But wait, there’s more! “Priority Access” at Dulles, much like in Orlando, only means priority in the first queue to enter the screening area. Once you actually get in, no priority is offered, and despite not very many people ahead of us, it took another 20 minutes to get through.
Why do I bring all this up? As a “buyer beware” of sorts for the tight international-to-domestic connections American will try to sell you through IAD. Due to schedule changes by both BA and AA, our originally scheduled 3 hour, 5 minute layover had been cut to 1 hour, 39 minutes due to American’s hub rebanking at DFW. Having heard horror stories about Dulles, I changed to the next flight several months prior, but again thanks to the rebanking, this now meant a 4 hour, 57 minute wait. Irritating, but I’m glad I made the change. After all the rigamarole and delays, we made it to the gate area with about 2 minutes to spare before the door would have closed on the flight American originally wanted to put us on. Unless you enjoy running through airports, I’d suggest 2 hours as the bare minimum for international-to-domestic connections, especially if you don’t have Global Entry.
I had described my original flight from Atlanta as “glorified business class”, a term I stole from Matthew and James, and my initial opinion still seems valid. This would be an excellent business class product, but a middling First Class one. Am I glad I experienced British Airways First Class? Sure. Would I burn a first class mileage award plus $500 in fuel surcharges each way again for the privilege? Probably not.
Note: this post is part of my multi-part trip report series about my wife and I’s trip to Europe in June/July, 2015. Read the trip report introduction for an index and background about our trip.