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I’m back! I turned 30 this month and in celebration, spent nearly two weeks in Mexico sampling some of the best all-inclusives it has to offer. We took a slightly odd route there through Houston, so that we could fly BA First on the Boeing 777 at a lower rate! So was the longer trip to Cancun worth it?
Summary – 6.5/10 (saved by the service)
Pros: Wonderful crew (especially inbound), good buddy seating with the option to dine together, Elemis amenity kits, reliable Wi-Fi, excellent outbound ground experience, getting your booze on!
Cons: Only discovering a technical fault immediately prior to takeoff that went on to delay us 2.5 hours, no Elemis spa, First Class cabin feels crowded with a lack of privacy, quality of First Class Lounge at Houston, personal dis-liking of the Grand Siecle champagne, minor faults with most of the food.
When: January 2020
Route: London Heathrow Terminal 5 LHR – Houston George Bush International IAH (British Airways First Class)
Cost: £1,939pp booked direct with BA in July 2019.
Techniques: Cheapest Fare Finder, Separate Ticket Booking
No airline flies direct from London to Cancun on First Class, so we knew if we wanted to travel first, some creative routing would be required. I used BA’s cheapest fare finder back in July to find the cheapest route for us into the United States. I then booked us on a separate ticket with United Business out of Houston straight to Cancun for £375. If we had booked the whole route with BA/One World, we would have had to flown to Houston, then Dallas and then Cancun for over £2,500, or direct to Dallas and then Cancun for over £3,500! So I felt the risk of booking a route with two unaffiliated airlines on separate tickets was worth it for the time and cost saving.
Unfortunately, this did not pay off and we were left stranded in Houston for a night. So, in hindsight, I strongly discourage booking a route with two separate airlines/tickets unless you factor in a night’s stay between tickets! Oopsie!
This review covers the end to end experience of both the outbound and return segments. However, more detailed reviews are available on the BA Concorde Room Heathrow here [update coming soon] and the BA First Class Lounge Houston [coming soon].
We arrived at 5am on New Years Day to a very empty Heathrow T5. The First Wing was only just opening and we were the first customers through in 2020. That’s pretty cool right!
The First Wing is open to First Class passengers, BA Executive Club Gold and Oneworld Emerald members travelling out of Heathrow T5.
I love the First Wing and it is still my favourite check-in experience to date, although I’m hoping to try Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal at Frankfurt in 2020, which I think will compete! The Christmas decoration in the First Wing was pretty simple but nice. Because things were just opening up, there were no refreshments out, just some towels.
We checked in quickly and seamlessly with some very heavy luggage – luckily travelling BA First you have 3 x 32kg of checked baggage each! Before we knew it, we were through the dedicated security lanes and on our way to the Concorde Room.
At Houston the BA First Class experience is less of a fanfare. There is a First Class check-in desk, but they were letting Club World customers use it too, which defeats the point. The check-in staff were super friendly though.
Both BA First and Club World and it seemed every other passenger travelling through Houston get their boarding pass stamped with a security Fast Track, which essentially means you just queue in a separate lane. It turned out this created more of a wait than just going through the standard security!
It was pretty cool entering the Concorde Room on New Years Day when it was completely empty. There were some subtle Christmas decorations by the White Company up too which were nice. My boyfriend and I chilled on a day bed overlooking the terminal for the majority of our time there.
I’ll update my review of the Concorde Room here with our breakfast experience. But overall the experience was actually better than my first visit in August 2019 (probably because it was so quiet). It was lovely to be recognised by Charlie, the excellent bartender who was in great spirits despite having to have slept through New Year’s Eve!
Flying BA First, you should be able to pre-book an Elemis 15-minute spa treatment here from 28 days before departure. I did submit my booking 28 days in advance, but was told all the slots were already gone. No one could offer an explanation as to how this happened when I was submitting my request as early as I possibly could. I found this really frustrating and it was only on arrival at T5 did we find out the spa was closed until 10am on New Years Day. So, if you are travelling on a public holiday and the spa is important to you, be mindful of what time your flight is. I think BA should have been more transparent on the opening hours of the spas, as this would have impacted my booking.
BA do surprisingly have a dedicated First Class lounge at Houston for passengers flying in BA First, or for BA Gold/Oneworld Emerald members flying with Oneworld. But it wasn’t really anything to write home about at all. All the food seemed to be bread-based! But there was at least a good selection of self-service drinks. All in all, I’d say it was more of a good albeit small Business Class lounge, but will do a full write up in due course.
We were left to our own devices in the Concorde Room to determine when we needed to leave for boarding. Make sure you plan ahead, because the Concorde Room can be a long way away from the gate. We were also not notified of a delay, so were left waiting at the gate for quite a while.
Boarding was then literally mayhem, delaying us even further with many passengers getting called up at the very last minute for a load of enhanced security checks. Surely this could have been organised better? We were stood at the boarding gates for half an hour watching passengers proceed for checks. When the gates finally opened, they opened all at once, with passengers from Economy, Business and First lanes all going through at once and creating a bottleneck to the plane!
We finally boarded and were given a lovely welcome by the crew. There was, however, no explanation of the seating at all. Like literally nothing. Neither of us had flown BA’s 777 before so had to find our own way around with the controls, storage etc.
We were, however, kept topped up with champagne, warm towels and nuts prior to departure.
Unfortunately, after taxiing for takeoff for what seemed like an eternity, the captain notified us that the steering wasn’t working and we were going to have to go back to the gate. The new arrival was estimated to be over two hours late, which put me into panic mode with our separate-ticketed connection. We ended up over 2.5 hours late, so long enough to mess up all our plans, but not enough for any compensation!
I fully accept that I had booked two separate tickets with two different airlines at my own risk and did not expect BA to sort this all out for me. But, I was surprised at how little information they could provide. There was no clear answer as to whether BA could find out if United was running on time and communicate with them (they couldn’t), or if BA would accommodate us in Houston (they wouldn’t). Just having been given some more clear information on board would have settled me down. I also was alarmed at how late a technical fault as serious as broken steering was discovered. Surely this should have been tested earlier than leaving for takeoff?! This definitely rattled us both.
All in all, knowing we were missing our connection and the first night of a luxury all-inclusive that cannot be refunded was a blow and dampened the outbound flight experience. But it was a lesson learnt and I won’t be risking such a tight itinerary again!
The inbound boarding experience was similar, but much smoother. I was very impressed with the member of BA staff running the First Class lounge, as she told us exactly when to leave in order to seamlessly board the plane.
We were also greeted by name on the inbound flight by an even more friendly crew. Nicola, Peter and Charlotte were the hands-down best First crew I have ever flown with (across all airlines).
On-Board Service & Amenities
The BA service really was excellent on both legs, but with the inbound crew taking top spot. At no point on either flights did I struggle to get a drink or the attention of the crew when needed. They were proactive with offering to set up my bed and also offering the option for us to dine together.
I know some other reviewers don’t rate the service in BA First, but personally, I appreciate the more relaxed feel and banter that they offer. It certainly made my boyfriend more comfortable, as he really isn’t into fancy and super formal atmospheres!
We got our First amenity kits. I love the women’s amenity kit and put it up there as one of the best kits in the sky, packed full on Elemis products. The contents are: 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, Pen.
The men’s kit is a bit more simple, containing: Ultra Smart Pro-Collagen Matrix Moisturiser and Eye Treatment, Hydra-Nourish Lip Balm, Fortitude Deodorant, Deep Cleanse Facial Wash, Toothbrush & Paste, Socks, Ear Plugs, Eye Mask, Pen, Comb. I think it’s a bit stingy to leave the likes of face wipes and hand cream out of the men’s kit – surely they would use these items too?
You also get Temperley pjs, which I find a bit less comfortable than those provided by Emirates or Etihad. But they do the job! Just expect them to shrink in size by about half when you wash them!
Cabin and Seat
Both legs of the trip were on the Boeing 777. The outbound leg was supposed to be on the 787-9 but got changed one week prior, which annoyed me as the 787-9 is reportedly the best BA’s First cabins.
The Boeing 777 first class seats are mostly due to be ‘refreshed’ as the new Club World suites are retrofitted onto these planes. But this effectively means taking the cabin down to 8 seats like the 787-9. I would appreciate this, as on the outbound leg with all but 1 of the 12 seats occupied, it felt really crowded.
Like all BA First seats, there is no door. I can deal with the seats having less room compared to the likes of the Etihad Apartment. But not being able to close yourself off in privacy in First these days is pretty bad. The cabin and seats felt more like a very good business class. But I do like the decor and the finish.
On both legs we took two middle seats together, as you can talk to each other more easily by removing the divider (just a folded window). For the most privacy and space, I would recommend 4E & 4F because there is no seat to the right (this area is sealed off and used by the pilots for resting). However, you will be served last and given the last choice of the dining options which came to bite us. We flew 1E & 1F on the way back and got served noticeably quicker.
The seats do feel a bit more roomy than the 787-9, and I like the curved enclosure of them. There is a very small wardrobe space to hang a jacket and also limited space to store a backpage under the footrest (all bags have to go in the overhead storage for takeoff).
I slept on both legs and the seat converts to a full, large, lie-flat bed. I found the bed extremely comfortable with the mattress topper, duvet and pillows provided and slept like a baby on both flights!
For me, the biggest negative of the seats was the entertainment screen. You have to swing it out and it is really pretty tiny. It just gave the seat an Economy feeling!
Overall, for travelling with a companion, I actually liked the 777 cabin more than the 787-9, as it was a bit more roomy and you can dine together, with your companion sitting on the footrest. However, if travelling solo, I would stick with the 787-9, due to the more intimate and stylish cabin with bigger entertainment screens.
I like that in First you can choose when to dine, which suited us outbound as we needed a nap after celebrating New Years’ Eve just hours earlier!
Flying from London, you can pre-order your meals in First here between 30 days and 24 hours before departure. This doesn’t give you any extra choice than what is on the menu on the day, but guarantees your first choice. This is needed, because the BA stocking of First class food is shockingly bad.
You can only pre-order your main and by the time the crew reached us at the back of the cabin, most options for the starters and desserts had already gone. I really don’t think this is acceptable. If you are paying the considerable sum for First, you would never expect that only a few of each item on the First menu are actually put on the plane. Major loss of points for BA.
Before dining, canapes are served. I seemed to miss out on these as I was busy trying to sort out accommodation and a new flight out of Houston. Maybe they offered and I misheard? But my boyfriend got them and said they were pretty tasty, with the smallest amount of caviar on one! Note there is no actual BA caviar service in First, which again I find pretty tight.
On the outbound flight, we had the following.
Me: Warm truffle linguine (very tasty but a bit dry), Pan-fried fillet of halibut in lobster bisque (extremely tasty and well cooked but the amount of bisque provided was comical), Blueberry and nectarine charlotte (unmemorable)
Boyfriend: Oak-smoked salmon (not his first choice but enjoyed it), Grilled pork cutlet (it was described as pork belly on the pre-order which it definitely wasn’t – did not enjoy at all and said it was dry and unseasoned), Blueberry and nectarine charlotte (also agreed unmemorable).
We had afternoon tea about 2 hours before landing. We didn’t realise when saying yes to the full afternoon tea just how much we would be getting! The selection of sandwiches, sweets and a warm fluffy scone with jam and clotted cream was actually better than the main meal itself!
Flying back from Houston, you cannot pre-order your main, but luckily sitting in the front row we got first dibs!
We both ate identical meals: canapes (very tasty indeed and I actually couldn’t fault these), spinach and ricotta ravioli with pancetta (great flavours and a good portion), chicken breast with red wine jus (completely blah and a bit dry), cheese boards (huge huge portion that we could not finish with a good selection of cheeses and a lovely fragrant marmalade).
Again, about 2 hours before landing we had a breakfast service. Still full from all that cheese, I could only manage fruit and a smoothie. My boyfriend valiantly sampled the Full English for me. He described it as “definitely microwaved, but not bad”. Ha!
As you can see above, the food was okay, but there was at least one fault with most dishes. I think in the future I’d stick to fish courses on BA, which they seem to nail more consistently.
What we did love was the buddy dining. It was a real novelty to dine together tete-a-tete in the air and it felt like a special experience.
This time we sampled more than just the Grand Siecle champagne (which is BA First’s main champagne, retailing at about £130 a bottle). I think after drinking it a second time that it just isn’t my cup of tea. I prefer a more rounded and biscuity champagne and have drunk bottles at £30 and £40 which beat the Grand Siecle for me!
So we sampled the wine selection with dinner! We tried all the whites and reds (in the name of research of course). No matter how many times we said “just a small glass”, the pours were hilariously huge. The best white in my opinion was the Chablis, with a light oaky finish, and the best red was the incredibly juicy Rioja. BA do not serve expensive wines in First, with them arriving around £20/£25 a bottle, but we found all to be pretty good.
My boyfriend also sampled some of the cocktails, which he described as lethal. The beachbound, for example, was tasty, but so so strong on the alcohol. He actually passed out after that one, ha ha ha!
Entertainment & Connectivity
As I mentioned, the screens were very small. Another issue is that for the first few hours of the inbound flight we were stuck with just a selection of channels that are playing films at random points! They then reset the entertainment system and the full choice of TV & movies became available. How extremely odd!
A major improvement from my flight in August 2019 was the Wi-Fi. On both legs I could connect immediately after takeoff and it never cut out. My only criticism is that you can only connect one device, which again I find super stingey. My boyfriend didn’t realise this when connecting his phone and it meant he was unable to work on his laptop throughout the flight, despite appealing to the crew.
Landing & Arrivals
I was given a birthday card from the crew on both legs of the trip, which was a lovely touch. On the way back, I even got a box of chocolates, which I thought was really really sweet!
I liked that the crew made sure First were, ahem, first off the plane, which was not the case on my August 2019 flight. Our bags were also first out on both legs, which helped us exit the airport quickly and seamlessly.
There is no fast track immigration for BA First arriving into either Houston or its flagship of London Heathrow. I find this a little strange, but at both airports, the system is very slick and not required.
I said in August 2019 that I would fly BA First again, and I don’t regret it. If anything, I’d say the experience was marginally better. But you need to know what you are getting when you book BA First. No chauffeur, no closing door, okay food, and no amazing suite that you will remember for a lifetime.
However, you will get, in my opinion, a really genuine crew who actually have personalities, the wonderful Concorde Room, and no side looks when you order your 10th glass of champagne or three different wines at once!
I’d reinforce again that I would not book BA First without the Concorde Room, and I will make sure next time that the spa is open! I don’t think I would ever go beyond the £2k mark for First Class (unless flying really really far like Australia). For me, that’s the limit for not feeling ripped off!