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Last month I flew British Airways First for the first time! This was a normal cash purchase booked as part of a flight + hotel package for a slight saving, about 5 weeks ahead and outside of any sales. It represents just about as cheap as you can get this route without any special deals or redemptions. I was super excited, especially as BA updated their First Class offering back in March. So was it worth it?
When: August 2019
Route: London Heathrow Terminal 5 LHR – Nashville International BNA Return (British Airways First Class)
Cost: £1,960 booked as part of a flight + hotel package to provide an overall hotel saving.
Techniques: Package Booking, Cheapest Fare Finder
Nothing terribly special about this one. You just need to be flexible on travel dates. BA’s cheapest fare finder allows you to quickly find the cheapest date in First Class. Current availability shows flights a bit cheaper than I paid from December 2019 to April 2020! I love this tool!
If you need a hotel, it is worth checking the price of the package (it is possible to add on a hotel before proceeding to payment) – it may be a lot cheaper to book the two together. I saved just under £100 on my Bobby Hotel Nashville booking, and it meant everything was ATOL ABTA protected as a package booking. Plus you get Avios on your hotel booking too! BUT do check the likes of Expedia for the same hotel, as they often have 10% off vouchers which bring down the cost.
This review covers the end to end experience of the outbound segment. However, more detailed reviews and information on the return leg, the BA Concorde Room Heathrow and the BA Elemis Spa Heathrow T5 will be available soon.
I got to Heathrow with a Wheely, because even travelling First Class with BA does not get you a ride to the airport. Boo!
Arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5, I headed up to the BA First Wing trying to contain my excitement. I’ve looked on at the entrance before, wishing I was behind it. It felt like a special day and I’m not sure which other airlines’ flagship check-ins can compete. Note that you must be travelling from Terminal 5, so if this is important to your experience, check which terminal your flight would leave from! The First Wing is open to First Class passengers, BA Executive Club Gold and Oneworld Emerald members.
There wasn’t much of a queue at all (as you’d hope!) and I was checked-in within a couple of minutes. You progress straight through to the First Wing’s security lane, which I was also through extremely quickly. I was asked if I know where I’m going to get to the Concorde Room, which was directly after security. The whole process from arriving at the airport, to the Concorde Room was less than 15 minutes.
When it comes to airport lounges, sitting at the bar is important to me. And the bar at the Concorde Room was lovely, as were the staff. I was expecting it to be a bit stuffy, but the bartenders gauge if you are after quick and quiet service, or a bit of banter. Throw in some bubbles and I’m a happy lady. So at 10:45am I started on the Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle champagne, retailing at £130 a bottle. I will cover off the Concorde Room in an in-depth review, as there is loads to report on. In a nutshell, it was my best lounge experience to date. Period. If like me you want to maximise your First experience, get there early. You would think just over 3 hours would be too long, but it flew by (pun intended).
Also part of the First Class experience is a 15 minute treatment at the Elemis Spa. First Class customers can pre-book their treatment 28 days in advance. This is a must, as they fill up quickly. I had the facial as I always tend to dry out on long flights. I certainly felt glowy afterwards and was happy to get some free samples too. Again, I will report on the Elemis Spa and how to get the most out of your booking in a separate post. It was a nice addition to my lounge experience (and also a needed break from the champers).
After what seemed like no time (hiccup) I made my way to boarding. I was at a B gate, which was a bit of a slog to get to. I was impressed that the staff accurately told you when to set off (40 minutes before departure for B gates). Apart from Emirates where I directly boarded the plane, every lounge I’ve been to has announced I should proceed to gate, only for me to wait half an hour at the other end. This time, as I arrived, they were just calling Group 1. Boarding was in separate lanes and very organised, making sure we were first on.
I was greeted upon entering the plane, by name, and then shown to my seat. The cabin was a Boeing 787-9 jet, which is reported to be the best BA First cabin (I’m already booked on an alternative from Houston to compare!). I was very impressed. I’d advise if you want to maximise your first experience, try and make sure you book a flight on a Boeing 787 (you can tell by the seat map only having 8 seats). It felt very personal and I liked the emblem at the front. I was in seat 1F in the aisle. I’d have preferred a window seat but once the divider was up I really didn’t notice the passenger next to me.
So how was the seat? It is no Emirates First Class seat! Everything is a bit smaller, a bit less grand. But it was also still great. I liked the compartment to store your jacket with a hanger. There is a bit of under-seat storage, enough for my backpack. And there is a trunk as well, which I put my handbag in. There is also a vanity mirror and, of course, a lie-flat seat.
I was offered the Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle straight away with nuts, which I of course had. I was very excited to receive a Limited Edition BA100 amenity kit in a lovely red suede bag. These were given to First passengers only in August 2019 (sorry!). The contents for women are the same as normal (except a BA100 pen!) with the following items: Ultra Smart Pro-Collagen Matrix Moisturiser and Eye Cream, Pro-Collagen Rose Mist, Hydra-Nourish Lip Balm, Cleansing Micellar Facial Wipe, Soothing Apricot Facial Wipe, Fortitude Deodorant, Sea Lavender & Samphire Hand Cream, Toothbrush & Paste, Socks, Ear Plugs, Eye Mask (not pictured) and pen!
I then changed into my Temperley black & satin PJs and slippers ready for a nap. One of the biggest benefits of First is that you can order food on demand. Unlike all the other passengers I asked the steward if I could dine later after my sleep, as I was still full from the Concorde Room. I didn’t have to worry about losing my first choice of meal, as I had pre-ordered before the flight (if travelling in First you can do this 30 days in advance).
Once up in the air, when you are ready to sleep you can ask to have your bed made up. The seat is put fully flat, with a mattress topper, duvet and pillow. I was given a few bottles of water, which I appreciated when I woke up GASPING! Flying + alcohol really is a dehydrating combination. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
3 hours into the 8hr30 flight I got up and asked if I could start my meal. The service was swift and seamless throughout. It really was great. I particularly liked the crockery, which is one of the new additions to First. I started with the canapés, the fish paté had a smidge of caviar on it. I found this quite funny as BA don’t serve caviar in First Class, which really is a let down seeing how it is standard on many airlines. It seems like they were teasing! The canapés were tasty, but nothing mind-blowing.
As well as the Limited Edition amenity bags, to celebrate 100 years of BA, Michelin Star chef Tom Kerridge had designed an August menu. I pre-ordered the entire menu. My meal in the Concorde Room had been hefty, so thankfully these were all fish courses and wonderfully light. Compared to the food on the way back (not Tom Kerridge), I’d say it was a definite step up. To start I had the smoked salmon tartare (not pictured – oops – I ate it before I remembered about photos!). I then had the fillet of halibut and finished with milk chocolate and amaretto tart. I wanted to try the cheese board, but there just wasn’t room. Next time! Note the presentation of the food was very good, I just started eating each course before I took a photo. Greedy Maxxy.
Entertainment & Connectivity
The screen was not massive, but it was perfectly sufficient. I found the noise-cancelling headphones very good indeed. So much that I had to keep taking them off to hear what the stewards were saying. The entertainment choice was the same as in Economy and was okay, but not a huge selection of new releases.
I tried connecting to the free Wifi but never had any luck. This was the same as on the way back. I’ve never had much luck with Wifi up in the air, so it may be my device, but I was slightly disappointed.
Landing & Arrivals
About 1 hour before landing I was offered an Afternoon Tea. I had found room somewhere and had a scone, which was delicious. I thought it would be ice cold and hard (my experience of cakes on a plane) but it was warm and crumbly.
And so it was time to land! The only bit of the whole end to end experience that didn’t feel very slick was exiting the plane. First passengers were stuck at the nose of the plane, unable to get by Business who had already started departing. The crew could have made sure we were all off before letting Business go.
At Nashville, the First treatment well and truly finished! There is no premium lane for immigration and customs – you just have to join the queue. There was a bit of wait, but by the time I got through my suitcase was just coming for collection as part of the priority luggage.
Was it worth paying cash for BA First? Under the right circumstances, Yes. I have already booked another cash flight for New Year’s (my 30th!). As a whole experience, I actually enjoyed the whole thing more than the First Class Emirates flight back from New York. It felt more of a holistic luxury flying experience. But the onboard product is not the best First experience available and BA’s prices reflect that. Also, I really wish BA would provide a chauffeur service to and from the airport. It wouldn’t cost them much in the grand scheme of things and it would complete the experience from start to finish.
Personally, I would not book a BA cash flight in First that does not include a Concorde Room. I’ll very soon post how different my flight back from Nashville was. If both legs had been lacking a BA flagship First Class lounge and spa experience, the value just would not have stacked up.
I’d say if you can get a flight out of London Heathrow Terminal 5, or New York JFK, at the lowest end of the cash range, go for it! But I wouldn’t pay more than that – why would you?!