Avios Flights Oneworld Reviews

Review: British Airways 747-400 First Class

"Business Plus" or a real First Class contender? We flew the British Airways 747 at the pointy end to find out.

Cabin Overview

British Airways First Class has an international reputation the airline would probably prefer it didn’t. “Business +”, “J +” and “The best Business Class in the sky” are among the less complimentary descriptions of BA’s most prestigious cabin.

While airlines across the world have developed their First Class products, and in some cases their Business Class products, into large enclosed suites, even incorporating double beds and showers, there’s a strong opinion that BA has failed to keep up with international competition.

Does the product deserve to be labelled in these ways though? We recently flew from London to Washington on the airline’s Boeing 747-400 in First Class to find out.

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Flight details

  • Flight: BA293 London Heathrow T5 to Washington-Dulles International
  • Class: First
  • Seats: 2A & 2K
  • Aircraft Type: Boeing 747-400
  • Aircraft Registration: G-CIVO
  • Aircraft Age: 20.7 years
  • Date: 5th July 2018
  • Departure / Arrival: 17:10 / 20:20
  • Flight Time: 7h 10m
  • Cost: 68,000 Avios + £371.21 per person

The ‘First Wing’

If like us you’re departing from London Heathrow, you’ll be eligible to check in at the new British Airways ‘First Wing’ at the far south end of Terminal 5 in Zone J. Drop-off by car should be at door 5 (the last door).

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Entrance to the First Wing. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

You can also take advantage of this facility if you hold British Airways Executive Club Gold status, or oneworld Emerald status, and are flying on a oneworld operated flight.

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The British Airways crest at the entrance to the First Wing. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

This area is designed to whisk you through the check in process, through a dedicated security lane, and straight into the British Airways Galleries First lounge. Perfect not only for those travelling First, but BA Gold and oneworld Emerald status holders, as we were about to discover…

Perhaps we were unlucky but when we arrived at the First Wing to check in for our flight, we were greeted by a sizeable queue.

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Queue to enter the First check in area. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

It wouldn’t be the last time we stood in a queue that day, so if anything it was good practice!

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First Class check in desks at Heathrow T5. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

It took about 15 minutes from joining the queue at the First Wing to completing the process. The staff member who checked us in was very friendly and helpful, also assisting with a minor name issue on one of our ESTA visas.

From the check in area you proceed straight through the private security channel.

Since we were busy snapping photos we were reminded by the staff who scanned our boarding cards not to take any pictures of the security area itself, for obvious reasons. We can confirm this media image accurately depicts the setup.

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BA First Wing security. (Image: British Airways)

There are bench seats and tables for you to repack your items after security screening, and the whole process is quick and efficient. Security staff were friendly and courteous, but of course they are employed by a third party security firm not by British Airways.

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The corridor from the First Wing security directly into the lounge. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The final stage of the First Wing, for many passengers at least, is the corridor from the security screening area into the Galleries First lounge.

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Entrance to Galleries First. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

If you’re heading to the Concorde Room, you’ll have to exit this lounge, then you’ll see the Concorde Room entrance directly opposite.

From clearing security to arriving at the Concorde Room (via the Galleries First lounge) took just 4 minutes. In addition to the time spent queuing for check in, the whole process therefore took about 20 minutes.

In essence, the First Wing, while a nice idea, was a waste of time. We spent more time queueing than anything else. At the time the nearby Club World check in desks (adjacent to the First Wing) were empty and as a First Class passenger you can check in there, walk through priority security and then take the first right straight into the Concorde Room (via the ‘secret’ back door).

Maybe we were unlucky with the time of day, but queuing just to join a First Class check in area, whose private security channel leads you into a lounge you aren’t even destined for, doesn’t make much sense.

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Lounges

As we were flying in First Class, we headed for the Concorde Room. This lounge is exclusive to BA First Class passengers and Concorde Room cardholders, it is not for oneworld guests.

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Click here to read our full review of the Concorde Room

Boarding

The gate for our flight was only displayed on the screen in the lounge 45 minutes before departure time.

As usual at Heathrow T5, it meant taking a train to one of the satellite piers (B in this case), so we packed up our things and made our way out of the Concorde Room about 40 minutes before departure time.

The journey was actually quick and we arrived at gate B45 just 10 minutes later, 30 minutes before departure time.

The scene however was quite chaotic. Boarding had not commenced and banks of queues had already formed.

It wasn’t particularly clear where the First Class passengers should wait, and seeking assistance from one of the gate staff met with a rather curt response with us being directed to the back of the ‘Group 2&3’ queue. We decided that probably wasn’t right and joined the back of the Group 1 queue.

Only then did we realise our boarding passes did actually say ‘Group 1’ on them (we hadn’t even noticed before), which means you are boarding with Club World, BA Gold and oneworld Emerald status passengers. Lots of them.

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Boarding had not commenced 30 minutes prior to departure time, and the Group 1 queue was already lengthy. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Families with young children boarded first (which was a little confusing as initially we thought they might be First Class passengers and that we were just waiting in the wrong place!).

Finally Group 1 boarding commenced, 19 minutes before departure time. Only it hadn’t really commenced. What happened is we were all assembled into the (hot, windowless) airbridge where we then stood waiting for boarding to actually start. Around 7-8 minutes went by stood here. Not a First Class experience by any means.

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Queueing in the airbridge. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Once boarding actually started, it quickly became apparent the entire 747-400 was being boarded through only the second main left door, via a single airbridge.

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The first of the two airbridges was never connected to the aircraft, for whatever reason. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Finally, 11 minutes before the scheduled departure time, after a walk through Premium Economy, we were the first two passengers to arrive in the First Class cabin (everyone ahead of us was apparently destined for Club World, or were status holders).

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Finally on board, 11 minutes before scheduled departure time. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Not a problem of course, we aren’t all that precious about being first on the plane, but the way it was arranged just didn’t feel very ‘First Class’ to us.

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Settling in

We were shown to our seats by the crew, who were friendly and welcoming but did seem a little flustered. We got the impression this late gate assignment and delayed boarding through a single door was all a bit of a last minute change for them too.

We were each offered a welcome drink and opted for a glass of Champagne, the excellent Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle (LPGS) as served in the Concorde Room and in flight, so there’s no skimping on costs even at the boarding stage like with many airlines.

Emirates, for example, served Veuve Cliquot on the ground in First Class on our recent trip, before cracking open the Dom in flight. This is done to save duty (tax), which is payable if the aircraft doors are open in most countries.

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The calm after the (boarding) storm, window shades down and Eddie’s glass of LPGS with a still water. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The cabin decor is by London-based design firm forpeople, and despite being nearly 10 years old remains elegant and stylish.

The window blinds in particular, which sit behind a perspex screen and completely black out the light from the two windows at each A or K seat, are very ‘business jet’. They are electrically controlled, can be stopped at intermediate positions, and incorporate mood lighting controlled by the cabin crew based on phase of flight.

Unfortunately they don’t feature on the slightly newer two versions of BA’s First Class seat, as installed on the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787-9.

From a distance everything about the seats looks nice and new, however on closer inspection they have certainly seen better days with a number of scratches, marks and general wear and tear apparent.

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Parts of the cabin have seen better days. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

There were eight of us in the First Class cabin on this flight, around a half load, with three cabin crew serving.

The crew came round with a menu for the flight.

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The First Class menu. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Later in the review we take a full look at the dining options offered on this evening flight to Washington.

Shortly afterwards the crew brought round the amenity kit and pyjamas. We’ll also take a close look at these later in the review. Slippers are available on request, but they were not proactively offered so we’re not sure how most passengers would be aware.

We thought it was quite nice that these items weren’t rushed, or waiting at our seat from boarding for example. It’s a nice touch to be offered a drink, then progressively be offered a menu, then amenities a few minutes later etc. It also gives the impression that you are being attentively looked after and the service isn’t rushed.

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Right in the nose – the sought-after row 1, seats 1A and 1K. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The Captain then made an announcement apologising for the delay, apparently the aircraft had arrived at the gate late and then there was a catering delay, which led to delayed boarding.

To cut a long story short the situation progressed for over an hour, blamed on the air traffic control slot, followed by a passenger visa paperwork issue for the US authorities, followed by another air traffic control delay, then continued visa issues.

The pilots kept us informed regularly but even they were beginning to sound exasperated by the situation towards the end! The air conditioning on the 20-year old 747 was also apparently not coping well on the ground in the British summer weather, which the pilots acknowledged and promised would improve once the engines were running.

In First Class though, it seemed ok. Slightly warmer than usual but perfectly bearable.

The good news is that the crew remained attentive and our Champagne was continually topped up during the delay. We chatted together at seat 2A using the ottoman seat without much concern as we were heading straight to the hotel on arrival in Washington for our first night, with no dinner plans given the late arrival time and the fact we’d eat on board.

We finally pushed back at 18:23, 1 hour and 13 minutes late, and took off at 18:51.

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Finally on our way. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

After takeoff the crew took another drinks order, so we again stuck with the LPGS. This was served with mixed nuts.

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Champagne and a bowl of nuts after departure. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Storage options

The British Airways First Class seats are a little lacking in readily accessible storage space, however there is a large wardrobe fitted to the back of the seat in front of you with hanging space and a place for your shoes.

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The wardrobe. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

We found that the small magazine rack to the side within easy reach can actually comfortably accommodate the 12″ MacBook or an iPad, though that’s not its purpose.

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Power sockets

The single power socket at each First Class seat is at floor level, which isn’t ideal as it becomes inaccessible when the seat is in bed mode.

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Multi-standard power socket at floor level. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

There is an additional USB charging port underneath the TV, which works quite well for smaller devices like your mobile phone, which can then rest on the side console while charging.

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USB charging. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Table and workspace

A large table extends from the side console. It’s an ample size for working, eating and as noted later in the review for ‘buddy dining’ too.

It is a little tighter in the latter case compared to some other First Class seats we’ve flown, so it may not be particularly comfortable for your companion to sit on the ottoman side for too long.

Amenity Kit and Pyjamas

The amenity kit provided is by the designer department store Liberty London, with toiletries by Aromatherapy Associates London.

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The amenity kit is provided shortly after boarding. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

It’s a good selection of products in an attractive toiletries bag, which is ideal to reuse in future.

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Amenity kit contents. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The kit includes:

  • Shave gel
  • Revitalising moisturiser
  • Deodorant stick
  • Lip balm
  • Razor
  • Comb
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Socks
  • Eye mask
  • Earplugs
  • Pen

If you are a fan of Liberty, the amenity kit also includes a £20 off voucher if you spend £200 or more at their Regent Street store.

The pyjamas are nicely presented with a bow and have the BA ‘First’ emblem. They are good quality but we didn’t try them, as we both prefer to bring our own clothes to sleep in on flights.

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Pyjamas. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Toilets

There are two toilets for the First Class cabin on BA’s 747-400, both are located at the back on the left side. Two toilets to a maximum of 14 passengers is not a bad ratio at seven